Monday, August 31, 2009

"Let's Play Adoption"

From Adoptive Families Magazine archives, "Let's Play Adoption:"

I smiled and listened closely as I overheard my daughter, Lillianna, and her friend, Rachael, playing with their dolls the other day. Lilli said, "Let's play orphanage." There was no hesitation. Rachael picked up the theme in a heartbeat and said, "I'll be a mom coming to take my baby home." And thus began an hour of play between these two adopted seven-year-olds and their dolls.

We adoptive parents have made it a practice to talk to our children about their adoption story. We retell it, discuss it from time to time, and add facts and information when it seems appropriate. There may also be times when it does not seem right to talk or encourage our children to talk about adoption, as well as times when the pressures of parenting cause us to forget about keeping up the discussion.

We find that younger children ask questions about their adoption story. As they grow older, we know they continue to think about adoption-related issues. But, ironically, as their thinking becomes more concrete, they tend to ask fewer questions and engage less in discussion about adoption.

But, as Lillianna and Rachael teach us, there is another way for adopted children to work out their feelings about adoption, and that is through play. Playing is comfortable, natural, and more fun than talking. And, lucky and fun for us, we can be a big part of it.

* * *

Play by the Rules

*Do not be afraid to bring up adoption in the context of play. It can help children process their feelings, get comfortable talking, and bring youcloser to them as you share this fun and private time.

*If your child has not wanted to discuss adoption in the past, playing might be the way to get him or her to open up. Play also encourages creativity, helps develop a sense of trust and reduces anxiety. Play can set up a healing stage where your child's buried feelings of sadness or anger can be expressed, explored, and explained.

*Stop the play and/or consult a professional if your child exhibits excessive anger, worry, sadness, fears, aggressive behavior, or new separation anxiety.

Definitely some good ideas here. The article doesn't use any examples of using play to talk about birth parents and abandonment, but of course ANY and ALL adoption issues can be addressed in play. Click here for a post about role-playing abandonment and being found with my kids.

One caveat about the last point in the article -- stopping and/or consulting a professional if your child exhibits excessive anger, worry, sadness, etc. Focus on the word "excessive," please! It is perfectly normal for children to express anger, worry, sadness, and fear when discussing hard issues. Don't stop just because your child is showing her feelings -- expressing emotions is a good thing!

And for general -- and terrific -- advice about using play to become closer to your children and to discuss hard issues, see Playful Parenting, recommended by my friend Lisa.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gay Adoption and International Comity

In 2004, I wrote a law review article about international adoption and international comity, which is the requirement that governments recognize the legal acts of other governments. That’s why my parents married in France under French law are considered married in America under American law. And that’s why my children, adopted in China under Chinese law are considered my children in America under American law. But there's an "out" in international comity -- a government need not recognize judicial acts that are "repugnant" to the law and public policy of that government.

At the time I wrote the article, no countries in international adoption were allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt. I hypothesized what would happen if a country allowed adoption by gay couples (gay and lesbian couples usually have one member of the couple adopt the child as a single person, then the other parent seeks a domestic “second-parent” adoption.) Now, Uruguay is poised to approve adoption by gay and lesbian couples -- their Senate has passed a bill, now the House has passed a bill, it goes back to the Senate to be reconciled, and the President has agreed to sign it).

So here’s what I wrote in 2004:

Consider the following hypothetical:

Brad Davis enters a committed, long-term relationship with Christopher Martin, and they decide to adopt a child. The country of Gayswana has recently opened its doors to adoption by gay couples. Brad and Christopher adopt Maya, carefully following all the laws and regulations of Gayswana. They then return to the state of Utopia, where they have resided together for five years. After parenting Maya for five years, Brad and Christopher seek to enroll her in public school. The school questions Maya's Gayswana birth certificate and looks askance at the foreign adoption decree. So, Brad and Christopher decide to go to state court in Utopia and seek a state court decree recognizing the Gayswana adoption decree.

Should Utopia recognize the judicial decree of adoption from Gayswana, or is it repugnant to the law and policy of the state? Incidentally, Utopia adoption statutes recite bluntly, “No person eligible to adopt under this statute may adopt if that person is a homosexual.” [Incidentally, that's the Florida statute].

If Utopia were to follow the ruling in Tsilidis, where a state statute limiting adult adoption to married couples justified invalidating an adult adoption by a single man in Greece, Maya's adoption from Gayswana would be repugnant to the laws and policy of the state. In fact, it would appear to be a stronger argument that the adoption was repugnant where the statute explicitly prohibited the adoption under Utopia law. Perhaps the Utopian court would take more seriously the language of Justice Cardozo: a foreign decree is not repugnant and will be recognized unless doing so “would violate some fundamental principle of justice, some prevalent conception of good morals, some deep-rooted tradition of the common wealth.”

Thus, the action to recognize the foreign adoption decree places the court of Utopia squarely in the middle of the debate about gay and lesbian families. Is it moral? Is it in the best interest of children? “Courts today generally use the two-parent, biological family as the template against which to measure, and to conform, other families.” Naturally, the “biological family” model requires one male parent and one female parent. If the court uses this model, Maya's family doesn't “fit.”

But unlike Tsilidis, which involved the adopted son's right of inheritance from the adoptive father's estate after his death, Maya's family is intact. And unlike Tsilidis, Maya is not an adult--she is a 6-year-old child. Is it in her best interest for the court to refuse recognition of the foreign decree of adoption? Professor Cahn argues that the law's use of the nuclear family paradigm fails to take account of the “settled expectations of those living within [so-called alternative] families.” She notes that early adoption law “cabined by the traditional significance of blood relationships,” nonetheless “struggled to accord respect to functioning parent-child relationships with settled expectations.”

Having named the state Utopia, one can hope that the court will recognize the foreign decree of adoption that created Maya's family. If it failed to do so, what would the court do with Maya? Should Maya be removed from the home of the only parents she has known to be placed with a married, heterosexual couple? Does the family have to return to Gayswana to be recognized as a family? Will the court refuse to recognize the decree, but otherwise refrain from interfering with the family?

There may be support for the last option--at least one court has distinguished between the status of adoption and the incidents of adoption, refusing to allow inheritance but stating that their refusal did not depend on the status of the adoption. So, this last option seems the best of many bad options if a court refuses to recognize a foreign decree of adoption. But consider all the rights and duties of parents, discussed previously--all the incidents of adoption. Who can consent to surgery or other medical treatment for Maya? Who is responsible for providing financial support? From whom can Maya inherit, receive Social Security benefits, insurance death benefits? Who can enroll her in school? Who can be punished for failing to enroll her in school? Without judicial recognition as parents, neither Brad nor Christopher can act as Maya's parents. What is clearly called for is a child-centered approach to judicial recognition of foreign decrees of adoption.

So, we can expect my hypothetical to come true in a courtroom near you. Now, you might think that the fact that the U.S. has now fully adopted the Hague Convention Respecting Intercountry Adoption would take care of this. After all, Article 23 says: "An adoption certified by the competent authority of the State of the adoption as having been made in accordance with the Convention shall be recognized by operation of law in the other Contracting States." So, the various states of the United States would have to recognize a gay adoption finalized in Uruguay, right?

Not so fast! Article 24 says, "The recognition of an adoption may be refused in a Contracting State only if the adoption is manifestly contrary to its public policy, taking into account the best interests of the child." That seems to codify the repugnance exception from international comity. So the issue will be ripe for litigation, I think. I hope any state would follow my suggestion of a child-centered resolution, which mirrors the Hague requirement to take into account the best interests of the child.

[Sorry, the article is not available online, unless registered for Westlaw, LexisNexis, or Hein, but here’s the cite: International Adoption and International Comity: When is Adoption “Repugnant”?, 10 Tex. Wesleyan L. Rev. 381 (2004).]

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Chinese Eyes" Again

We went out for ice cream after dinner tonight, and triggered by the almonds in her Rocky Road ice cream, Zoe said, "At lunch the other day, three boys were doing this (the infamous eye-pulling gesture) and saying 'Chinese eyes! Chinese eyes!' at me."

There was a similar episode at school last year, different boys, and not directed at Zoe, but just done in front of her. She handled it well, but was naturally upset. Tonight she was pretty matter-of-fact about it (I'm not sure if that's an improvement, actually).

I asked what she did, and boy, was I proud of her response: "I said, 'Hey, guys, those aren't Chinese eyes, these (pointing at her own eyes) are Chinese eyes!'" Said, by the way, in the same tone she uses when she thinks I'm an idiot! For once, I was quite impressed with her smart mouth!

We brainstormed over ice cream about what to do about it, and talked about the school rules about teasing and bullying. Zoe hadn't thought of it as bullying, and couldn't really define what bullying was, just that bullying wasn't allowed. She knows from school to tell a grown-up about bullying, but that isn't much help when she doesn't know what bullying is. Seems a flaw in the school's anti-bullying curriculum.

Zoe is still thinking about whether she wants me to tell her teacher about the episode, though she agrees I can tell the teacher of the fault in the anti-bullying program. I've given her until parent-teacher conference in September to decide whether to share about the Chinese-eyes teasing, and with names or without them. Zoe handled it so well I don't feel the need to intervene immediately, but if it happens again, all bets are off.

As I said last time, I am so glad we've been pro-active about the possibility of racial teasing and negative adoption comments and the like. (We've role-played these kinds of situations several times.) I think that really helped Zoe feel empowered to handle this on her own -- which, of course, is when these incidents will happen, when she's not with me, but on her own.

Maya came up with the best response for future use -- she pushed in, rather than pulling out, the corners of her eyes and said, "English eyes! English eyes!" I almost choked on my ice cream!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Terminating an Adoption: Will the Real Anita Tedaldi Please Stand Up?

That NYT blog piece by Anita Tedaldi about her disrupted adoption? Well, she wrote this article, We Can't Trade In Our Children or Husbands, in January 2008:

Hard to believe, but a Dutch couple returned their adopted Korean daughter after seven years. [I blogged about this case here]. The parents adopted the little girl from South Korea when she was 4 months old. Reports of how the situation unfolded were contradictory but it appears that thegirl was given over to the care of the Social Welfare Department in Hong Kong, where the man is a diplomat, because they could no longer care for her. The couple explained that the girl was emotionally unresponsive and all attempts at therapy failed.

As an adoptive parent, really as just a parent, I can't justify this couple's behavior under any circumstance. I don't think these people are monsters, though the result of their action is monstrous because they chose to follow their selfish and unloving side instead of choosing to tough it out and love their daughter no matter what. Sadly, the impact on this child will be devastating.

Perhaps they had good intentions when they adopted, most likely they did, but something went wrong along the way. These parents were probably unprepared to deal with some difficult aspects of adoption. It's easy to imagine only the best of a new family member, just as we do with our biological children. No one envisions mediocrity, let alone problems. I have imagined perfect things in the past only to discover the road to family or marital bliss requires lots of hard work and an effort to practice unconditional love.

* * *

From personal experience I can say that adoption can be challenging. But so can a biological child who has issues, or problems in marriage, or work-related difficulties. When our adopted son Matteo started having health issues we had to consult several specialist and it was hard for him to be around his sisters, it became challenging. This doesn't mean that my husband or I ever had any second thoughts about adopting Matteo, or that we considered him any different than our biological children.

So is Matteo a pseudonym? In the NYT article she uses the initial D., and in a comment she posted to that article, she called him David (BTW, in that comment, she also said she had 3 children at the time she adopted D., and then had 2 more after D.'s adoption). Is this the same child? If so, then in January 2008 she had no second thoughts, and in August 2009, she tells us about the disruption like it happened a while ago. Pretty quick to go from couldn't-imagine to done-deal.

Sheesh, who IS this woman?! Or does this simply represent her right to change her mind? She also says in the NYT piece that she didn't know where the idea to return D. came from when it popped into her head -- ya think Jade's story might have had something to do with it?! She acts in that article like she'd never even heard of disruption before . Those who are praising her honesty in writing that blog post, regardless of opinions about the disruption, might want to think again. . . .

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE

I CANNOT believe it! Military.com has scrubbed it's site to take down the article by Anita Tedaldi that I linked to above! You click on it now, you get a generic page about columnists, not even an ERROR 404 message, nothing to show the article previously existed there. If you do a search of the site for Tedaldi's name, you find two other articles by her, but not this one. In fact, the search page shows the two results, but at the top it says "Results 1-2 of about 3 [about 3?!]." And at the bottom it says, "In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 2 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included." But when you click to get the omitted results, nothing else comes up!

WTF??? I'm a military brat, my dad was career Air Force. I'm appalled by this. Any guesses why they scrubbed it clean? I can't tell you how happy I am that I snipped this portion of the article before it was made to vanish.

"A little Beyonce"

I got my hair cut the other day, and a little girl was also having her hair done. She was African-American, a real cutie, around 4 years old. We were on opposite sides of the salon and were flirting with each other in the mirrors. She was there with her white mother, and it turns out she was adopted.

A couple of things struck me. First, the little girl was having her hair ironed straight, and her mom kept saying to her, "Don't you just love it when your hair is straight?" Hmmmm.

Second thing, the (white) stylist working on her hair kept telling her she looked "just like a little Beyonce!" Then came the stereotypical comments, "I bet you're a great dancer, just like Beyonce, right?" And when the little girl finally climbed out of the chair, "Show me a little dance!" No comment from mom.

Nothing to complain about here, right? Who could complain when her child is compared to Beyonce -- after all, Beyonce is gorgeous!

But that little scenario illustrated for me how stereotypes are reinforced, how limitations on what and who you should be are determined and conveyed based on your race. How insidious these reinforcements are. How pervasive these racial microaggressions are. When it starts when you're 4 years old -- before you're 4 years old -- how do you resist? And when it comes from your own family, how do you survive with a positive racial identity intact?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Update: Harper Scruggs is Home

I blogged before about the story of Harper, whose adoptive parents left her in China when she could not get a visa to enter the U.S. because of new TB rules. She's home now, and here's a link to the Washington Post's story about the homecoming.

More about Ponyo


I posted before that after watching Ponyo, Maya said, “It was just like adoption!” I saw more differences than similarities to adoption, so I was curious about how Maya saw it. We talked a bit more about it this week, and here’s a pretty good recounting of our conversation, which was no where near as linear as it appears here. Maya was in a completely silly mood, and was throwing in head stands and cartwheels as we talked! But she provided the opening, so I took it!

Maya: I loved Ponyo. I want to be Ponyo!

Me: It was a good movie, wasn’t it?

Maya: Yes, yes, yes, yes! [the silly goose!]

Me: Have you thought any more about how it was like adoption?

Maya: Yes, Sosuke adopted Ponyo.

Me: Really? Do you think so?

Maya: Yes! He loved Ponyo and he promised to take care of her forever.

Me: Who did he promise that to?

Maya: You know, like you did in China – like the . . . the. . . [groping for the word]president?

Me: Do you mean the government?

Maya: Yes, yes, yes! [I didn’t see any government in the movie -- I was fishing for birth parents!]

Me: Why do you think Ponyo’s parents wanted Sosuke to adopt Ponyo?

Maya: They needed to save the world from the monster fish! They had to stay in the ocean. Ponyo wasn’t a fish anymore so couldn’t stay in the ocean with them. She wanted to be a girl and stay with Sosuke.

Me: How do you think Sosuke felt about that?

Maya: He was happy! I want to be Ponyo! I want to be a fish AND a girl! [we’re losing interest, I think].

Me: How do you think Ponyo’s mom and dad felt about Sosuke adopting Ponyo?

Maya: [long pause for a head stand] Sad. They’ll miss her, but I bet they’ll visit her. I’m a fish, fish, fish!
And as usual, when Maya’s done talking, she is D-O-N-E. I had wanted to ask her a few more questions, like what role she thought Sosuke's mom played in this adoption, but we were DONE!

I'm not sure she had focused before on Ponyo's parents as relinquishing birth parents. She was thinking of adoption from Sosuke's and Ponyo's perspectives, and pretty much disregarded any involvement from grown-ups. That doesn't surprise me msuch, since Maya professes to not being very interested in her birth parents (in contrast to Zoe who is ALL ABOUT her birth parents), and seems to want to avoid talking about them or thinking about them. I think that's why we were D-O-N-E talking when I raised the issue of Ponyo's parents. She didn't want to see that similarity to adoption. But I liked her statement, "I bet they'll visit her." She doesn't see adoption as a complete divorce from the first family, it seems. And that's a good thing!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Terminating an Adoption"

In the unfortunately-named NYTimes parenting blog, Adventures in Parenting, another adoptive mom tells of a disrupted adoption:

Five or six months after his arrival, I knew that D. wasn’t attaching. We had expected his indifference toward my husband, who was deployed for most of this time, but our son should have been closer to his sisters and especially to me, his primary caretaker.

His social worker, his pediatrician and his neurologist all told me that he had come a long way, and that attachment issues were to be expected with adoption. But D.’s attachment problems were only half the story. I also knew that I had issues bonding with him. I was attentive, and I provided D. with a good home, but I wasn’t connecting with him on the visceral level I experienced with my biological daughters. And while it was easy, and reassuring, to talk to all these experts about D.’s issues, it was terrifying to look at my own. I had never once considered the possibility that I’d view an adopted child differently than my biological children. The realization that I didn’t feel for D. the same way I felt for my own flesh and blood shook the foundations of who I thought I was.

At least in this one, she doesn't blame the child. I'm afraid we're going to see more and more of these confessionals, now that it's more "socially acceptable" to admit to a disruption. And all statistics say that disruptions are going up; but most of the disruptions involved older child adoption, where it is perhaps to be more expected. But I'm hearing of too many cases like this one, where it's infant adoption. Sigh.

What do you think of the headline to the story, "Terminating an Adoption?" Certainly better than "re-homing." It sounds clinical, final -- deadly. Maybe that's more apt than disruption.

P.S. 8/28/09 This is what I wrote in the comments to the story on the NYT's website after reading through 155 comments praising the author for her actions:

No, we shouldn’t judge; but we also shouldn’t tolerate everything.

Many commenters have suggested that this story doesn’t have anything to do with adoption — after all, biological parents give up their children, too. But do they do so in situations like this one?

Do you really think in a situation like this one — a solidly middle class two-parent family, not inexperienced teenagers, but experienced parents to other children, with medical insurance to cover the costs of medical care for a special needs child, at least one breadwinner with a reliable income, and a special needs child who apparently is not so special-needs as to need institutional care and who can apparently function in another family, AND the child had been the biological child of those parents — you’d be throwing around terms like “brave” and “loving?” Would you call that mother the child’s “guardian angel?”

Somehow I don’t think so. What makes this situation more “socially acceptable” than similarly-situated biological parents abandoning a child is that for so many biological ties are stronger, more legitimate, more real, more lasting, than the “fragile ties” of adoption. In other words, for many of the commenters, and for Anita, whether consciously or subconsciously, adoption is less than, adoption is second best.

I look forward to the next NYT guest blogger — a biological mother in this same circumstance, who gave up her child. Those will be interesting comments to read!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New Blog Gadgets

I've added a few features to the blog that will hopefully make it more user-friendly:

Labels: I've finally gotten around to labeling or tagging the subject-matter of each blog entry. You can look at the bottom of each blog post and see the subjects; if you're interested in more of the same subject, click on that label, and all the posts with the same label will come up. You can also look to the right-hand column for the list of all labels, and click to read all the posts with a particular label.

Reactions: Under each post is a mini-poll, letting you click on your immediate reaction to what you read. All the posts have the same choices, so it might not fit particularly well, but it's a chance to let me know what you think without having to comment. I hope you'll still comment, though!

Followers: OK, this has been up for a while, but I'm hearing from some folks who have SOOOOO many favorites listed that they can't always find what they want! If you become a follower, blog updates show up on your blogger homepage, so you can have all your frequently read blogs in one place by becoming followers of those blogs.

Quick Email: This one has been there for a while, but maybe you haven't known what it is -- that little envelope with an arrow at the bottom of each post. Just click on it and you can quickly and easily send the blog post by email to anyone you want. That would include forums or yahoo lists that you are on. I'd love to have more readers now that I think we've built up a really great body of information, so I'd love a little word-of-mouth advertising from you! Feel free to post a link to the blog on any list you're on, or tell them about an infuriating thing I've said that they should set me straight on, or post an excerpt from a blog post that you think might be interesting to the list members. I'd appreciate it!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another Country, Not My Own

Thought-provoking article in the Boston Globe, by Mei-Ling Hopgood, adult adoptee from Taiwan and author of Lucky Girl:

Today, almost all parents who adopt internationally try to cultivate some kind of connection to their child’s birth land. Efforts range from throwing some ramen noodles in a salad to remodeling the interior of their homes to an Asian motif and spending thousands of dollars to send their children to language schools and heritage camps on another continent.

Parents do these things hoping to help their children adjust to the sometimes tricky duality of their existence. Yet I worry that some parents are now taking things too far: Going to extremes to idealize the native culture might be as damaging to an adoptee as ignoring it. Asian-American activists have for decades fought the idea that you are born with a culture - that if you look Asian, you must eat with chopsticks, wear different clothing, speak a different language; that you are different and thereby less American. Parents, to some extent, are asking children to conform to those expectations. And without adequate acknowledgement of the reality that actually is - their experience in America - I suspect that children might have an even harder time figuring out where they belong.

Have you REALLY told her she's adopted?

In the old days, social workers advised adoptive parents to keep the adoption a secret. The conventional wisdom today is that children need to be told they were adopted. So we adoptive parents, a bunch of eager-to-be-perfect parents!, comply. Or do we?

I hear it from so many adoptive parents -- "Of course, she knows she's adopted." But as we continue to talk, it is revealed that she doesn't know she grew in someone else's tummy. She doesn't know she lost her first family before she acquired her adoptive family. She's never heard the phrase, "birth mother" or "first mother" or "tummy lady" or "China mom."

All she knows is that she was born in China, that nannies took care of her until her forever family came and "adopted" her. You could have easily told her you "kerflummoxed" her, or "askewlated" her, or "droomextruded" her. These are just as much gobbledygook as "adopted" is, unless you REALLY define it.

And defining adoption requires TWO parts: 1) yes, the easy part for adoptive parents, that new parents made her part of their family and it is permanent; AND 2) the part that happened before adoptive parents entered the scene, the fact that she was born from and to another woman, who relinquished her.

Every child is different, and they are ready for more information at different ages. But I think it's never too early to tell them THEIR story, starting before birth -- "you grew like a flower in your birth mother's tummy until it was time for you to be born." There are lots of advantages to saying this earlier rather than later.

First, it gives us practice in saying "birth mother" or "tummy lady" or whatever words we decide to use. For some adoptive parents, especially those who suffered through infertility before adopting, it might be difficult to talk about. Starting by saying it to your child in infancy gives you the chance to mess up or choke up or tear up when it doesn't matter, and be more comfortable when your child is aware of what you're saying.

Second, it makes it a matter-of-fact thing, without baggage for anyone. Some parents seem to think they should wait to explain about birth parents until children can understand ALL aspects, including reasons for relinquishment, issues like abandonment and one child policies and social preferences for boys, and poverty and disability and war . . . . Sheesh, if you waited for all that, the child would be an adult! And if you've waited, no wonder you're scared to introduce the concept of birth parents! But by waiting, you take the risk that someone else will get to tell her. Not what you really want, is it?

Third, it gives our children the vocabulary they need to ask us more questions when they are ready. I've had adoptive parents tell me their child isn't interested at all in her birth parents, that she never asks anything about them. And then it turns out that they've never really explained adoption to include birth parents. No wonder she isn't asking any questions!

So have you REALLY told her she's adopted?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Poll Results: "Adoptress Letter"

I'm not suprised by the poll results for the "adoptress" letter -- 65% of respondents said the author of the letter, assuming she really was an adoptive parent, was deranged. Twenty-nine percent thought the letter was a satire. A few commenters thought the letter might have been written satirically by an adoptive parent taking to the extreme what some APs feel adult adoptees and first mothers want adoptive parents to do. But notice that NO ONE, not one adoptee or first mother, voted that the author of the "adoptress" letter was admirable. And first mother Cassi, with her usual wisdom, reminds us to have compassion for those hurting because of adoption, including the adult adoptee upon whose blog I found the "adoptress" letter.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dutch Adoption Agency Head Resigns Over Corruption Concerns

From Expatica, the second story in the Dutch News in Brief column:

Hailed by some colleagues as a whistle-blower, Ina Hut resigned as head of the largest Dutch adoption agency. She told Trouw that international adoption is less about the good of the child and more about the desire of Western couples parents. She complained of “market forces, corruption and sabotage.”

Hut has had a long battle with the Dutch justice ministry over adoption from China where, it is said, children are kidnapped and traded for the adoption market. The ministry found it “unacceptable” that she should investigate for herself whether Chinese children's homes regularly bought children.

She denied she wanted to launch an undercover operation and said it was suggested that, if she went to China to investigate, the Dutch authorities would rescind her agency's permit.

“I can no longer deal with these sorts of practices,” she said.


More here and here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Take Out?!

I was looking around at a Q&A website for moms, Mamapedia, and came across a question asking if, when and how to tell a child she's adopted. Naturally, I was interested, and looked at the suggestions in the comments. One comment was from an adoptive mom, and she included this:

BTW, my first two sons are biologically mine. I like to say that we made the first two from scratch and did take out on the third!
I have to say, most of these jokes about adopted children should really be avoided. Yes, I know, most parents don't mean anything by it, they're just trying to be funny. And sometimes APs feel that it's OK for them to joke about it, but bad when anyone else does it.

Like the jokes that might work for biological kids being raised by their biological parents, but don't work for adopted kids. Have you ever had someone say admiringly of your adopted child, "She's a keeper?" Umm, actually, she's wasn't a "keeper" for her birth family. And maybe she worries that she's not a keeper for THIS family, too. So maybe that's not so funny, either.

I don't think anyone would ever call me humorless, and I am capable of joking about ANYTHING, even things I shouldn't joke about (ask my Criminal Law students!). But jokes, quips, one-liners about adoption leave me cold. The authors of The Psychology of Adoption seem to agree with me:

In our family, adoption was a joke. We older cousins would tease the younger ones by pretending to let slip the fact that they were adopted. In reality, no one was; it was simply a way of saying, “You’re different; you’ll never fit in.” We inherited the joke from our mothers, who have been recycling it on their baby sister for nearly 60 years. Since I have come to know adoptive families, the humor has been lost on me.

The home-made v. take-out quip is also a way to say "you're different." And here we're not talking to a child who isn't really adopted, but to one who IS.

I think it's part of human nature that once we recognize difference, we need to figure out what that difference means, and that means ranking it. Is being home-made better? Or is take-out better? Do you think that child is wondering?

And click here to read one adult adoptee's reaction to jokes about adoption.

"It's just like adoption!"

The girls didn't have school today (a parish priest died, and they closed school so people could attend his funeral mass), so we went to see Ponyo. It really is charming, and deserving of all the rave reviews it's been getting. The animation was so much softer than the usual primary/neon animation in vogue in the U.S. these days.

Yes, I know, it's Japanese, not Chinese, so why am I blogging about it?! Because when it ended, Maya turned to me with a beatific smile and said, "It's just like adoption!"

The premise, if you've been living in a cave, is that little goldfish Ponyo meets Sosuke, and wants to be human so she can stay with him. She summons magic that allows this to happen, despite the objections of her sorcerer father. But her magic disturbs the balance of nature, and the world is about to return to a prehistoric world with everyone under water. The only way to restore the balance of nature is for Ponyo to remain a human girl. Her father and mother, the Goddess of Mercy, decide that Sosuke has to pass a test to show his true love for Ponyo before she can become human and remain with him (and his mother Lisa, incidentally, who takes it all in stride and doesn't seem to think it would a problem adding a former fish/child to the family). Sosuke passes the test by affirming his love for Ponyo, and his acceptance of her as a former fish/human child. At the end, Lisa waves to her vanishing parents, saying something to the effect of, "We'll take care of her for you."

So, yes, it's like adoption in some ways -- at least, if we see Sosuke as the one doing the adoption, since he had to pass the homestudy (maybe the "talking all night" between mom Lisa and mom Goddess of Mercy served as the real screening). And the "take care of her for you" part makes it sound more like foster care. Goddess mom said something about Ponyo passing between both humand and water world, so perhaps it's an open adoption. And since there's some suggestion of a romantic interest between Ponyo and 5-year-old Sosuke, it seems a bit awkward if she's his sister!

Still, Maya definitely recognized the adoption themes in this movie, and was really happy to see that.

Industrial Music in Beijing

From NPR/PRI yesterday, "The World’s Marco Werman introduces us to the industrial music of Beijing duo 'White.'” Interesting peek into the current music scene in China.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Families For Orphans Act

Anyone here against orphans getting families? That's like being opposed to cute furry kittens, rainbows and unicorns, and Santa Claus all rolled into one!

But it depends to an extent on how you define "orphan" and how you define "family." In the new Families for Orphans Act, "orphan" is defined as a person under the age of 21:


(A) who lacks permanent parental care because of the death, the disappearance of, or the legal, permanent relinquishment of such child by both biological parents;

(B) who is living in the care and custody of an institution;

(C) whose biological parents' rights have been legally terminated; or

(D) whose country of origin has determined lacks permanent parental care.
That's a far broader definition of orphan than is currently used under any other federal statute because it only requires one of the 4 for the child to be an orphan. It doesn't have to be (A) death/disappearance of both parents AND living in an instutition, for example. A child in an institution is an orphan. But of course she is -- unless you look at what institutions qualify, and realize that it is decoupled from the need for the parents to be dead or gone:


(A) an orphanage;

(B) a children's home;

(C) a boarding school for orphans;

(D) a shelter;

(E) a residential facility;

(F) a hospital;

(G) a dormitory;

(H) long-term foster care; and

(I) any other setting in which permanent parental care is not being provided to the child.
So a child living in a shelter WITH HER PARENTS is an orphan under this act. A child in a hospital, with LOVING PARENTS at her bedside is an orphan. And I love (C) a boarding school for orphans is an institution, and living in an institution is what makes you an orphan, so being in a boarding school makes that a boarding school for orphans, so you are an orphan DESPITE THE FACT THAT YOUR PARENTS ARE ALIVE and paying only goodness knows what on tuition! I'm sure all those wealthy parents who have their kids in boarding school are thrilled to know they are the parents of orphans. (Growing up I was a weird kid, and always wanted to go to boarding school. Now I can put that dream to rest since I don't want to become an orphan!).

And what about the definition of "family"? There is none in the Act, though "permanent parental care" is defined, and is one of the main purposes of the Act. "Permanent parental care:"


A) means a legally recognized relationship between a adult and a child who is younger than 21 years of age, which is life-long and provides a caring, safe, stable physical environment;

(B) includes--

(i) domestic and international adoption;

(ii) legal guardianship; and

(iii) legal kinship care; and

(C) does not include temporary or long-term foster care, institutionalization, or mentoring.
Again, that sounds good, doesn't it? But LEGAL kinship? What about a child in Africa living with extended family? I'm pretty sure there wouldn't be "a legally recognized relationship between child and caretaker which is intended to be permanent and is evidenced by the transfer to the caretaker of the following parental rights with respect to the child: protection, education, custody, and decisionmaking," as "permanent parental care" is defined in the Act. I doubt the grandmother in a small village taking care of her grandchildren whose parents have died of AIDS is going to have a court decree recognizing her rights. So, the kids are orphans. What about the child in Vietnam, living in an orphanage and visited frequently by his father? He does not have "permanent parental care," it seems. And living in an orphanage, he's an "orphan." And an 18-year-old who has spent her whole life in foster care with a loving foster parent in China is an orphan.

In an Act like this one, it would be imporant for the policy makers to be sensitive to cultural differences in family care and kinship care, and thus recognize that what looks temporary and unstable to Western eyes is perfectly appropriate care in another country. And, indeed, the act says, "In developing policies under this Act, the Coordinator should take into account cultural norms for each country to the extent consistent with the overall purposes of this Act."

In legalspeak, "should" is not "shall;" should isn't mandatory. And even if it were, by saying the Coordinator only has to be culturally sensitive when consistent with the purposes of the act, we're keying back into the definitions that orphan-ize everyone!

So who's this "Coordinator" they're talking about? Well, the act doesn't have any legally binding effect on other countries to turn children into orphans if they fit the Act's definitions. But what it does is set up an "Office of Orphan Policy" in the U.S. with a coordinator who will coordinate diplomacy and development about orphans, as defined, and permanent parental care, as defined. And the Act says that family preservation and unification is a goal, as is permanent parental care, as defined. So what's the big deal?

The big deal is that the U.S. is essentially conditioning the provision of development assistance -- money -- on a country's agreeing with these definitions and thus orphanizing more children. Thus, more and more children than ever will be turned into "orphans," even when they have living parents and/or actively involved extended family.

Because you know what we do with "orphans," right? We find families for them. (Even if they already have family?!) And if new families cannot be found for them in their home country (the Act preserves the Hague Convention preference for domestic adoption -- how could they not?!), then the Act says they should be available for international adoption. And further development aid is available to help countries develop legislation and systems that can lead to international adoption, as well as other technical help. So basically we're incentivizing countries to turn their children into orphans for international adoption.

Here are some places you can look for more information:

Here is the text of H.R. 3070 (the bill in the House) and S. 1458 (the bill in the Senate).

Here are Ethica's concerns, and a statement of support from the Joint Council for International Children's Services.

Read and make up your own mind. I've been hearing about this proposed legislation for a while now, and had heard arguments pro and con (more pro than con out there, it seems). It wasn't until I started reading the text of the bills that I realized the true scope and meaning of this benevolent-sounding legislation.

So put me down as opposed to kittens, rainbows, unicorns, Santa Claus, and the Families for Orphans Act.

Mark Your Calendars!

The Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) is offering an online workshop on talking to children about adoption on September 24:

Join Ellen Singer, LCSW-C for this one-hour session that teaches parents what children understand and think about adoption - and about being adopted - as
they grow and develop. Learn how to share your child's adoption story and how to
encourage them to comfortably share their questions, thoughts and feelings with you.

Watch and listen! New toll-free dial-in/online format enables parents to ask questions and address personal concerns before and during the workshop. Includes electronic handouts, pre-event Q&A survey and discount coupons for valuable publications, like W.I.S.E. Up!

Online Registration is now open!
Talking to Children about Adoption
Thursday, September 24,2009
9:00p.m - 10:00p.m. (Eastern time)
Fee: $20

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One Year Anniversary

When I started this blog one year ago today, I worried that I didn't have that much to say. In fact, when I posted about the new blog at my old moribund blog, I said, "The Adoption Talk blog probably won't be as active as this blog was, but I'll post as I can!" Now, 480 posts later, I guess we'd have to say I found something to say! This is not, of course, a surprise to anyone who knows me personally -- my mom will tell you she wondered when I'd ever learn to talk, and once I did, she wondered what it would take to shut me up! I guess I'm the only one surprised.

I worried, too, that no one would care to read what I had to say. Well, SiteMeter says over 30,000 visitors cared to read. Wow! I never would have expected that. I know that's small potatoes for a lot of great blogs out there, but I'm happy with my little slice of the pie! And one website has ranked the blog 17 in the Top 50 Adoption Blogs (no idea what that means!).

It's so weird to know you're out there, but not know who most of you are! Like the person who gets here by googling "adoption talk Malinda" each time (is your favorites button broken?!). Or the person from a Western state who always com here from my old Xiamen Adventure blog. Or the drop-ins who came with searches for "how to make a fake birth certificate" (what are you UP to?! Are actual TERRORISTS visiting the blog?!) or "dark knees" or "patron saint of adopted children" or "Asian girl fetish." I can't help but think they're very disappointed!

I understand the anniversary gift for one year should be paper; in this digital age, I think that means you need to come out of lurker mode and comment. I'd love to know about you! But you've really gifted me already, by visiting the blog! Thank you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Defense Mechanisms -- Coping with Abandonment

A heart-wrenching post from Gershom at Anti-Adoption, Separation and Abandonment is a Bitch:
I watched a video today of this girl in China who believed her new adoptive parents were coming to take her home. She had TB and it ends up that she can’t go home with them. The video is the future adoptive mother taping the goodbye. All screams of “put the camera down” aside… I want to talk about this moment in the little girls life and what it feels like to go through that.

I think its the core of my adoptee-ness. I have been there so many times. At her age sheis probably so scared to hold onto someone, to love them, to open up to them and
in the video it seems like she has established some amount of trust in the man, her future adoptive father.

Then it happens, 3/4 of the way into the video she “gets” it. They’re leaving and she’s not going with them. The screams, the pleads for them to not leave without her. The cries, pulling for them to stay, pushing those trying to keep her away….oh how I have been there.

The rage will follow, hatred, detachment and finally…the life saving umbness that will stay with her forever. By the time she’s my age she’ll be able to turn it on and off if she’s aware of it like I am. Use it as a body guard, shield,warrior of self. Detach, numb, forget, protect and move on. Survival mechanisms are beautiful things.

This isn't posted to judge the Scruggs family; it really isn't about the Scruggses at all. It's about reactions to abandonment, real or perceived. Recall, also, the system in Russia and Khazak adoption -- one visit, parents leave, six weeks later another visit to finalize the adoption. And all of our children have abandonment in their history; being aware of the possible effects is a good idea.

Disruption Screws Up Citizenship

Another sad story of a disrupted adoption: A child is adopted from India in 1987; the adoption disrupts. She is placed in foster care. NO ONE applies for U.S. citizenship for her. In 2001 & 2004, she is convicted of possession of cocaine. In 2008, she is deported to India.

Click here and here and here for more information.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Maya, Kindergartner

My baby is BIG! We went to Kinder orientation this afternoon (she had to show up in uniform, which she LOVED!), and she officially starts school tomorrow. We went to 12:30 Mass before the orientation, Maya in uniform, and she walked so tall, and was on her best Kindergartner behavior -- no wiggling, no talking, no sitting on Mama's lap (apparently Kindergartners don't DO that!).

We're thrilled with the teacher she has (not the same one Zoe had, who asked at each parent-teacher conference if I worried about fetal alcohol syndrome (WTF?!), and opined that her single daughter's eggs were going to get too old before she had babies, and she'd just "have to" adopt). Ms. C. has a reputation as a great teacher, and she's African-American to boot. I think that's especially good for Maya, who doesn't like to be Chinese because it's "different." Ms. C. is the only African-American teacher in the building -- she can show Maya a thing or two about being "different!"

Two articles on one child policy from China Daily


From Saturday, Shift in family planning policy controversial:

When Lin Xu, an office worker, crams himself into a tight suffocating bus every morning, sometimes with his face pressed against a window, he can't see what could possibly be wrong with China's one-child policy.

The family-planning policy was introduced in the 1970s to encourage late marriages and late childbearing. It limited most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two children. It is estimated that without the policy, the country's population would have ballooned by 400 million more than the current 1.3 billion, according to the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

But there is a price to pay. Recently, the aging workforce and its social problems have forced Shanghai into allowing eligible couples to have two children, a move that has triggered widespread speculation of a policy shift.

China's family-planning authority refused to make comments on the prospect of a policy shift, but some scholars are advocating change.

* * *

But Lin Xu doesn't care. Lin, a single-child at 25, interpreted the shrinking workforce as "less competition, hence more job opportunities and higher income."

"Chinese are used to dividing everything by 1.3 billion, and feel the pinch of everything 'per capita'," said [Professor of Social Sciences] Wang Guangzhou.

From Tuesday, Loss of a child sends families into crisis:

It has been eight years since her only daughter died, but Ke Bin still cannot talk about her "beautiful girl" in the past tense. "It is her 28th birthday this year," said the heartbroken mother as she stared into the midday sky above Shanghai.

Ke is 57 and one of a growing number of Chinese parents who have become unfortunate victims of the side effects of the country's one-child rule. She said she not only lost a daughter, but also her future.

Outliving a child is an unbearable prospect for parents over the age of 45 like Ke, the first generation subject to a family planning policy written three decades ago, as they must contemplate a life without the one person they would have traditionally relied on for emotional and financial support.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Adoptress" Letter

On an adult adoptee's blog, this letter from an adoptive mother:


I enjoy reading your blog and was hoping you wouldn't mind my asking you a question.

According to the laws of our and another country, I am an adoptress of two little girls. Now, I do NOT call myself a parent. I am NOT their mother and they are not allowed to call me "Mama" or "Mom" or "Mommy" or anything like that; I am Miss XXX and I am an adoptress. Likewise, my husband is NOT their father. Our parents are NOT allowed to call themselves grandparents and the girls are not allowed to call them as such. Our siblings are not allowed to call themselves Aunt or Uncle. We are NOT their "forever family".

Their mother is dead; she died giving birth to them. We have continued contact with their father and family, including siblings and uncles, in the country in which they were born; THEY are their forever family. We visit 4 times a year for 2 weeks at a time and are making preparations to move to that country so that they can grow up surrounded by their own culture and so that they can know their family. I am not naive enough to believe that this will, in any way, make up for having been removed from their country originally and it will in no way be the same as if they were growing up as natives, with their parents. I realized too late my mistake in wanting to raise a child (the adoption had been finalized, but we hadn't yet traveled) and will spend the rest of my life attempting to make up for it for these little girls. I wish I could undo the past, but I can't. Before we left the country with the babies, we met secretly with their father with our own interpreter and asked him to please take the babies back, that we would pay for all of the medical care that they needed and support his entire family for the rest of their lives if he would only take them back and raise them (it would have taken so little from us to make this possible, and we are not wealthy by any means). Sadly, he considered them expendable; five children were enough. If they had been boys, I'm sure it would have been a different story. And if their mother had survived, I'm sure she would have gladly brought them back to her bosom.

The problem we are having now is that these little girls, who are now 3 andhave been with us since they were 5 months old (they are twins), are starting to ask why they can't call us "Mommy" and "Daddy". They don't understand why nephews and nieces can call their grandparents "Grandma" and "Grandma", but we won't let them do so. They know they have a Daddy, they know they have brothers and sisters and uncles. We send letters and pictures
and drawings and there are photographs up all over the house. They know that they were "adopted". They know other "adopted" children via cultural events and ask why they call their adopters "Mommy" and "Daddy" but we won't allow them to do the same. They even know a foster child who calls his guardian "Mama".

Needless to say, we are not very popular in the "adoption" community, which is okay with me, but the girls are starting to wonder why they can never go to so-and-so's for a play date. Why some of the children are starting to tell them that their "Mommy and Daddy" don't want them playing with them because their adopters are "crazy". Even though we are only the adopters, we do love them and it hurts us to see them struggle with this. Sometimes, I want to cave and just say "it's just a name", but then I read yours, and others', blogs, and realize that it is NOT just a name and I want to honor that. I want to honor their mother. I want to honor their father. I bought the privilege of raising them (when I was doing it, I didn't think about it this way, as I had bought the story the agency gave us about why fees had to be charged, but I know now that I DID buy them). I bought the privilege of reading bedtime stories, kissing boo-boos, making cookies, doing their hair, teaching them to read. I don't need to be called by a name that I will never know (I've been in menopause since I was 13; I have premature ovarian failure and, instead of going through puberty, I got to have hot flashes). Don't get me wrong, if I COULD be a parent, I would love to be a parent. It just will never happen, and I was okay with that before I even graduated from high school. I did, however, want to raise children and thought that this would be an okay way to do it. I do know that I was wrong, dreadfully, horribly wrong, but I can't fix it. All I can do is try to do better for these girls and work to make sure that other children do not suffer from the naivete of adopters like myself, or even from the adopters who do realize what they are doing and try to pretty it up.

We are also not very popular in our family, who don't seem to understand why they are not allowed to take on names that don't belong to them. But, they are adults and they can deal with it. My only concern is for these girls. How can I help them around this issue? Do you have any ideas for "names" to call adopters that would respect the girls' family while at the same time be palatable to those, like yourself, who were taken/bought/stolen from their parents? They are starting to just want to be like everyone else, and I'm sure this will only become more difficult as they get older. What would have helped you understand this at their age? Am I contributing to the problem without seeing it? (I am only human and while I am trying, I make mistakes and will make plenty more before my time on this earth is through.) These girls didn't ask for this. In fact, they deserve so much better than this. I know I made the mistake, but is there anything I can be doing to help them?

I would be very thankful for any thoughts you may have and I support your work wholeheartedly. I believe that this system IS broken. It doesn't serve the children, and it doesn't serve the mothers. It only serves the adoption industry and adopters like myself. And I tell my girls that it was wrong, that my husband and I were wrong (in an age-appropriate way, of course; theolder they get, the more blunt I will become about what it was that I and my
husband did). I was just so naive. I remember learning from the social worker that their birth certificates would have OUR names on them, and I actually thought I could just ask them not to change the names of their parents, to leave them on there. It made no sense to me! I made color copies of their birth certificates and then changed the copies to put their parents' names back on there. I know that they aren't "legal" birth certificates, but they are the truth.

I am so sorry that anyone has to go through that which you and so many others have been.

OK, if you've read here long, you might think I'm pretty extreme in my insistence that my kids have two real moms, me and their birth moms. You might think we go too far to honor their first families. You might think me a little off plumb on the whole birth certificate thing. You might think we harp too much on heritage/culture/identity, going to the extreme of living in China for a time. But I only have one thing to say about this adoptive mom:


Crazy much?


Or am I off plumb with that judgment? I want your take, so I'm putting up a poll. Not cool to have told you my opinion before polling, but I just couldn't hold back! And please comment. I'd especially like to hear from adoptees and birth moms on this one.

Speaking of White Privilege. . .

In Peggy McIntosh's groundbreaking article, she lists 46 things as the daily effect of white privilege in her life. It would be too long to list all 45, but here are some, pretty much chosen at random, for a taste:

1. I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, fairly well assured that I will not be followed or harassed by store detectives.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely and positively represented.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

12. 1 can go into a book shop and count on finding the writing of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance that I am financially reliable.

15. I did not have to educate our children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

16. I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.

17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.

19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

24. I can be reasonably sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

26. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out of place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing, or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader, I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

46. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.


Do you see white privilege at work in your life? Do you see how that might be different for your children? It starts with that first one -- arranging to be in the company of people of their own race most of the time. For most of them, most of the time, that isn't possible, is it? And some of that rubs off on us, as parents. #15, not having to teach our children about systemic racism, doesn't apply to us. Does that feel like the loss of a privilege we're entitled to?

Discuss, please!

Friday, August 14, 2009

White Privilege & Children's Books

Follow this link from Harlow's Monkey to a great piece on white privilege and children's book by Laura Atkins. Atkins has been a book editor, and explains how books by non-white authors or featuring non-white characters are changed in the editing process to reflect majority culture.

Part of selection and editing of books in certain ways reflects the typical editor's place in majority culture. This self-confessional part explains it well: "I became aware, over time, of how my reaction to manuscripts was based within my background – class, race, education, and gender. I had certain expectations of the types of stories that were appropriate for children, ways of constructing a narrative, and content that was child-friendly. It was only in the context of working with authors from different backgrounds that these expectations were challenged."

The changes are also motivated, she says, by "market forces" (read: money) -- the desire to reach a wider audience, and appeal to institutional buyers like educators and librarians who tend to be white. She discusses in detail how a book she edited was watered-down (or perhaps more accurate to say white-washed) to meet that institutional audience.

Perhaps most shocking to me was the discussion of a publisher who placed the photo of a white girl on the cover of a children's book featuring a black girl. Atkins notes the lack of outrage over this incident in mainstream media.

Go read the whole thing -- it's not that long.

Addendum: Also thanks to Harlow's Monkey, this link to Sara Park's reaction to Atkins' piece, applying it to her interest in Asian-American characters in children's books and Asian-American adoption in children's books.

Adoption Goes to School ALREADY


I can't say that I'm surprised that Zoe is already drawing and writing about her birth family at school. Yesterday she only had a half-day, but today was a full day of school and the teacher gave them free time to draw.
Zoe sits at a cluster of desks with three other students, and when she drew her birth parents, the kids were all curious and asked, "So this is what your birth parents look like?!" (Like quasi-stick-figures would somehow capture that!). Zoe corrected them, "No, this is what I THINK my birth parents look like." That's why she wrote "THINK" in capitals and dark ink after she drew the picture. (And notice that her birth parents have glasses, as usual. She's convinced they have them since she does. And also notice that they are smiling -- she draws them with tears on their faces most of the time, since she thinks they are sad and missing her.)
On the back of the paper, she also made the "What I think/What I know" distinction, which I think is great. We are always talking about what we know and what we don't know, and what we think or what we guess; I'm glad to see that it's been making an impression. She's beginning to see what is fantasy and what is reality when it comes to her birth family. And she's come a long way from when she was so frustrated by what we didn't know that she couldn't get past that to do any imaginary thinking.
She's never before shared with me the I Think: "I think my birthparents had more children that went to orphanages. They look like me." We've talked about the fact that she MIGHT have siblings in China, that her birth parents might have had a child before they had her, that they might have felt they needed to have a boy child. But we've never talked about the possibility that other siblings might have ended up in the orphanage.
I wonder where that's coming from. It's true, of course. We've all heard of such cases of multiple girl children being abandoned, one at a time, as the family tries for the boy they think they need. I don't know if Zoe has figured that out on her own, or whether it's an idea that comforts her -- it has been disturbing for her to think her birth parents kept some children, but relinquished her. We'll be talking more about this in the days to come!
Zoe showed her teacher her drawing and writing, and she simply said, "Thank you for sharing that with me." No shock, no intrusive questions, no instructions not to think or to think in a different way about her birth parents. Good answer!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why I love blogging

With the blog's one-year anniversary approaching, I've been thinking a lot about how fantastically fun this blogging year has been. Here's my list of 10 reasons why I love blogging:

1. I have a short attention span. Really, I do! As much as I love to write, I tend to get distracted from longer projects. Blogging is perfect because I can write shorter snippets than allowed in academic writing (which I still do!), and go where my attention takes me.

2. I love to know people are reading. In academic writing, it is said that an average of 8 people read an academic article. Thanks to the fact that people comment and sign up as followers, and that SiteMeter tells me how many people pop in to read the blog, I know I'm reaching more than 8 people!

3. I love the people who are reading and commenting and following. I feel really fortunate that the regular readers here are totally cool people! Yes, I mean you! I've learned a lot from you, and truly appreciate my indefatigable commenters like Lisa and Mei-Ling and Osolomama and Wendy just to name a few -- the ones I can ALWAYS count on to comment! Thanks to you all!

4. I love to hear different viewpoints. That's why I love comments so much. The first thing I do each morning is check for comments on the blog. It's nice to hear when people agree with what I wrote, or find it helpful, or thought it was funny, but it is equally nice to see people raise points I hadn't thought of or considered, and given my weird personality, it is equally nice when someone argues thoughtfully that I'm just dead wrong!

5. I love to make people think. I really never care whether anyone agrees with me; the nicest compliment I can ever get is "you made me think," not "I agree with you!" In that way, the blog is an extension of what I do in my law school classroom -- I'm asking people to consider different points of view, not to adopt my point of view!

6. I love to think I'm helping people. Like the person who made the search, "Chinese mothers abandoning thier daughters," and then spent 40 minutes at the blog. I like to think they left with a better understanding of Chinese birth mothers. Like the person who came to the blog with a search, "responding to 'not my real mom.'" I know she/he found resources to help. I love the reader who complimented me about the resource list and linked blogs by saying, "I've always known the stuff was out there, but you did all the work for me!"

7. I love being part of a dialogue. When another blogger links to one of my posts, or I link to another blogger's posts, I very much appreciate the expanded discussion. That's especially true when the dialogue includes birth mothers and adult adoptees as well as adoptive parents. And I'm thrilled when bloggers include me on their blog rolls. I have a real sense of membership in a larger adoption community.

8. I love finding new blogs to read. There are lots of intriguing blogs and websites out there, and I've found some really cool ones by backtracking references to my blog in other blogs. And then many of those blogs have become my favorites!

9. I love thinking and learning. I'm one of those people who process things by writing about them. As I write a post, I'm actually thinking through my position, my beliefs, my basis of information. I'm then sometimes led to research a bit more about an issue, and that new information then gets processed in my writing. So I'm learning new things and thinking through my opinions all the time.

10. I love talking about my kids. What parent doesn't?! While I try to narrow what I talk about to adoption issues, it's still fun talking about my kids! Because they are completely amazing and wonderful and adorable and smart and curious and challenging. Mostly this blog is about helping me to help them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What additional information do I need to know about your child?

Well, tomorrow is back-to-school day for Zoe. Maya starts on Monday. They are very excited, especially Maya, who can't wait to start Kindergarten! It's all I can do to get the school uniform off her -- "don't I need to try it on again?!"

I just spent the evening filling out all the forms the school thinks are essential -- emergency contact, driver form, general information. Just how many times do we have to write the SAME INFORMATION?!

And the teachers for each of the girls asked for some information, and then asked on the form, "Is there any other information I need to know?"

What do you do at that point? Do you tell the teacher your child is adopted? That there's no daddy in your nontraditional family? I have that debate each year. I mean, I know it's going to come up at some point. My kids aren't exactly shy about it. Zoe will write about it. She'll share it with classmates. So isn't it a good idea to give the teacher a heads-up? Or do I just let it unfold?

I asked Zoe what she wanted me to say in answer to that question on the form; I told her I wanted to know her opinion, but I wouldn't necessarily do what she wanted, since it was my responsibility to fill out the form. She said she wanted me to tell her teacher.

I decided to share. I explained that we talked very openly about adoption in our family, and that was a great thing. And I told her to expect that Zoe's adoption would feature in some of her school writings, and that I was thrilled Zoe talked about it.

On Maya's form, I told her teacher simply that she was adopted, and that our family didn't have a daddy, but that for any father-specific projects, Maya was used to doing things for her grandfather.

So what do you do on school forms?

P.S. How funny! I just saw that Tonggu Mama blogged about the letter she sent the teacher about adoption. Great letter, go read it!

Official Indifference to the Lost Boys of China

Thanks to Chinazhoumom for the link:

Whenever Deng Huidong sees a little boy around 3 years of age, she can't help but wonder if he's her son. Her son, Ye Ruicong, was snatched by human traffickers more than a year ago when he was just 9 months old. "I imagine how tall he would be, how fast he could run," Huidong said. "I take photos of boys who are about the same age to see; this way I can recognize him if we ever meet one day."

Huidong believes Ruicong was sold, possibly within hours, to a family without a son looking for a male heir. Males come with a premium price tag in China. During a videotaped confession, a woman caught trafficking children two years ago told police that boys can sell for up to $1,200, girls for just more than $200.

Ruicong was gone in an instant. Recalling the abduction, Huidong said a white van slowly drove by while she was just outside her home with her daughter and son. The van stopped and reversed to the Deng household. The doors opened and a man leaned out and grabbed Ruicong. The van then sped off. "It all happened within seconds; they didn't even get out of the car."

Huidong gave chase on foot, screaming. A stranger on a motorcycle offeredto help and together they chased the van until they reached a police car. "I went in that damn police car but after a only a few seconds, they took a sudden turn down another road. I asked why but they just kept silent. I was crying and asking; they simply didn't reply. Later at the police station, I asked why and he told me he was off duty, so it was some one else's responsibility to catch the traffickers."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New TB rules affect family's adoption

It seems the Scruggs family's problem in bringing home their newly-adopted TB-affected daughter is getting some traction in the media. From the Washington Post:

"Papa, don't go!" she screamed in Cantonese after Scruggs kissed her and tried to hand her over to the foster family that would care for her until he could return.

Finally, the foster mother took the girl and Scruggs slipped out the door, the first step on a trip he wasn't ready to make, a day after his wife, Candace Litchford, had made the same wrenching journey back home to Alexandria.

So, instead of starting life with her new family in the United States, Harper remains in China, the visa she needs to enter the country blocked because of federal regulations aimed at limiting the number of immigrants entering the country with tuberculosis. If her parents had known she was sick, they would have waited for her to finish treatment before they visited, they said.

"You know, she loved us, she bonded with us and she attached to us, and we had to leave," Litchford said. "How's she supposed to trust us? We did everything to explain why, but how do you explain government to a child? You can't."

In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control issued new tuberculosis testing and treatment rules for immigrants older than 2. The policy applies to all immigrants, including foreign children adopted by U.S. citizens, and has outraged several adoption organizations.Advocates said the rules will be particularly problematic for adoptions from Ethiopia, where the guidelines went into effect April 1, and in China, where they took effect July 1.

Both the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe have run recent articles on the way the new TB rules affect adoptions, with the Scruggs family getting a mention in the Boston Globe. There's also an interview with the mom in the Examiner.com.

I don't know enough on the medical end to know whether the general rule for immigrants & TB testing should apply to children, but it sure seems that with 2 years of notice, adoption agencies should do a better job of finding out children's health status before families travel.

Zoe tested positive for TB after we got home, though her chest X-ray was clear and so it was only dormant and not active. Still, we had to go through 9 months of treatment, oh joy! Even if the rule had been in force then, it wouldn't have affected her since she was under 2. But I can still only imagine the damage it would have done to to her to be given a "forever family" and have them walk away. I can't help but think there's a better way; it'll have to come from the agencies, though, since there are some good reasons for the health rules for immigration.

Update: Here's the link to the New York Times article.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Adopting Teens

A very touching letter to older kids being adopted, from a girl adopted at age 13 from China:

My name is Honour Grace. I came from China in August 2008, when I was almost 14 years old. I would like to tell you my story because I heard you might too be adopted by a foreign family soon.

When I got adopted, my Momshowed me a beautiful song called "She's a Butterfly." A few times when I lived in China, I felt like a butterfly but most times I felt like I was in a cocoon. In America, I always feel like a butterfly. Now I can feel my true colors, who I am, what I like, what I can do, where I can go. I can feel my heart.

* * *

I also like to stay up late talking with Mom and Dad. They want to know everything about my life. They ask me many questions about my life in China. It makes me happy to share because they really care about me, and it helps them understand my heart more. I like it because they know that my new life in America was not the start of my life. They respect the life I had when I was in China though my problems there make their hearts hurt. They wanted to look at every picture I had — when I was ready to share with them. They wanted to know all about my friends. I liked that they let me burst out of the cocoon in my time.

* * *

The best thing is when you are sad, there are people who will help you and listen to you and hug you. You don't have to ever be sad by yourself. The orphanage people can help you grow, go to school, get food, but they cannot stay with you forever. Maybe the auntie will get married or retire. Someday you have to leave the orphanage by yourself. Maybe you will be all alone then. But having a real family of your very own is always better than staying in the orphanage. You will never be alone then. A family is a treasure, take good care of the gift. If you open up your heart, it will be easy.

Great post on talking adoption

Great post on talking adoption:


There's an old saying in the cycling community, "It's not if you're going to crash, but when." Keeping this in mind, effective cyclists will train for avoiding falls and keeping crash damage to a minimum. The same advice could be given to adoptive parents. It's not a matter of if The Big Questions will come, but when. And, a little preparation in damage control is your best ally inbuilding an open communication with your child/ren as they embark on thisjourney to find and define themselves.
There's really good advice here:

To keep the lines of communication open, you must build trust into your relationship with your child/ren. In ongoing conversations, be prepared to tell the truth, then always tell the truth. Do your homework. Know what you know and what you don't. Read and re-read any paperwork you have about their abandonment or relinquishment. Do homework about abandonment patterns in their place of birth (country, city, province) and be prepared to put what you have been told into a greater context. If you believe that, at any time, you or your child will discover that the information you have been given about their availability for adoption is false, leave that open as a possibility. Get comfortable saying, "I don't know." Find your peace in clarifying all conjecture ("Maybe you were wrapped in a blanket, honey. We don't know for sure" "What we were told is ______."). Do not make beautiful rainbows-and-sunshine stuff up on the fly just because you see your child's beautiful eyes brimming with tears.
It's a must-read! Click here to read the whole thing.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

10 Things Adoption Agencies Won't Say

From SmartMoney at the Wall Street Journal, 10 Things Adoption Agencies Won't Say; my "favorite," if you can call it that, is "10. Once you've got your child, you're on your own."

I've been a fan of SmartMoney's 10 Things since I got a small mention in their 10 Things Your Lawyer Won't Tell You list (#7), and they actually spelled my name right!

Can you add to the list of 10 things adoption agencies won't say? How about --

11. We claim to represent children, and be concerned for birth mothers, but it's adoptive parents and their pocketbooks that really drive us.

12. If you criticize us, you'll be ostracized by the adoptive parents who love us, AND we'll threaten to sue you, so say what you want, but don't name the agency.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Nora’s Journey: A Korean Adoptee’s Life in a Chinese Family

A really fascinating story, published in a Japanese-American newspaper, of a Korean-American child adopted by a Chinese-American family in 1917:

My grandmother, Nora Kim, was born in 1917 as Esther Yoon, the fourth child to Duggar Choi Yoon and Byung Hi Yoon in Upland, Calif. Her eldest siblings, Gilbert and Anna, were born in Korea, and her brother Paul was born in Hawai‘i. After Grandma was born, her mother fell ill and her father — we believe in a state of panic — hurriedly arranged an adoption of the new baby through the church. Her mother knew nothing of the adoption until she recovered from her illness.

Grandma was adopted by a Chinese couple, Tom Chung and Yuet Lan Lee, and re-named Nora. They had been married for several childless years, but after adopting my grandmother, they had three boys in succession: Daniel, Andrew and Wilbert. Grandma’s adoptive mother had been born in San Francisco, the daughter of a wealthy matchstick factory owner who then moved back to China. She remained
behind in San Francisco, as she was an American and did not want to live in China where she would be “forced to marry some old Chinaman.”

* * *

Grandma was raised Chinese American, speaking English and Cantonese at home and learning her father’s Toisan dialect at Chinese school.

* * *

When Grandma was 12, her adoptive mother died suddenly. Her death was abrupt and shocked the family; she took ill for a short time, and then one night, her father called for a doctor because she had taken a turn for the worse. She died later that night.

After her death, her husband fell apart. In the area of Los Angeles where they lived, word must have traveled to Grandma’s Korean family about her adoptive mother’s death, because shortly thereafter she was called to her principal’s office at school. A woman and her daughter were waiting for her there, and introduced themselves as her mother and sister, Sarah.

“I didn’t believe them, I thought they were crazy!” Grandma had never heard of Koreans, much less suspected she was Korean herself. In her world, Asians were either Chinese or Japanese. Her mother and sister visited her again at school, and then were asked not to come back. “I would see my Korean mother once in a while, standing outside of the school gate, watching me. I was a little scared — I didn’t know what to do. I asked my aunt about it, and she told me to ignore them. Then she shooed me out of the room to talk to my father. I bet that’s what they were talking about.” Grandma learned later that her Korean mother would sometimes disappear from her cleaning shop to watch her in the schoolyard.

One day, the same woman and a man came to her house. They told her they were her parents, and would like her to come visit their home and meet her brothers and sisters.Grandma asked her Chinese father when he got home if what they said was true, but he never addressed the adoption. He just said that maybe she should go and visit. So one day, she did.

Grandma met her brothers, Gilbert, Paul and Chuck, and her sisters, Sarah and Mary. The eldest sister, Anna, was already out of the house — married with a baby. Because her adoptive father struggled after his wife’s death and eventually lost the house on 9th Place, Grandma went to live with her Korean family.



Click here to read the whole thing! And marvel at the relative openness of adoption at that time -- the birth family knew at all times where she was. Still, not the halcyon days of yore -- she was not told she was adopted or Korean until she was 12 and her adoptive mother had died.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Talking to Someone Else's Kid About Adoption

Since the "Are they orphans?" episode, I've thought of other times I've used the "deflect and educate" strategy. I use it with adults a LOT, but also with kids other than my own (it doesn't seem to work as well with my kids -- and I'm not usually trying to deflect with them).

I think part of why I deflect with other kids is that I'm always a little leery about talking to someone else's kids about adoption. Sometimes other parents don't want their kids to hear my views about adoption -- or anything else, for that matter! (There's a little girl who won't be waiting for late parents to pick her up after ballet anymore, I'm sure, since her dad walked in on my addressing her statement that "Obama is BAD because he called a lady a pig." I was explaining the whole "lipstick on a pig" thing. I'm pretty sure they'll be timely from now on, for fear of what "the crazy Obama lady" will be telling their child! (I promise, I did not raise the issue with the child -- I was talking election stuff with another parent when she interjected her comment!). So I talk adoption or China or race with someone else's kid ONLY when that kid raises it. I never do it on my own, though sometimes I have to say something on the topic to Zoe or Maya within the hearing of other kids!

I've never had a parent say anything to me about what I've said to their children, though I have had parents call me about what Zoe has said! The time, for example, that Zoe took pictures of our trip to China to get Maya to Kindergarten -- we had talked about what she was going to say, marked ONLY the touristy pictures in the album, and then she told the whole class about Maya's foster parents, defining foster parents, and saying that they were not her birth parents, and defining birth parent for them! The teacher said the kids were mesmerized! I can't even imagine all the conversations at the dinner table that night, but I know of a few of them, because the parents called me. Sigh. And then the time on a play date when Zoe told her friend all about being left in a box and the one child policy and social preference for boys. I got a call from the mom that night -- she was OK with it, but her husband was pissed that his daughter got such a taste of the real world.

So where are the lines on talking to someone else's kids about adoption? Are there any?