Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cowboy Junkies: Alt-Country via Beijing Opera

This review of the latest offering from the adoption-and-China-connected group Cowboy Junkies is really interesting:
If Beijing Opera isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Toronto’s veteran alt-country band Cowboy Junkies, you’ll be forgiven. There’s quite a musical gap between the slow, sexy huskiness of Margo Timmins and the high-pitched urgency of Beijing Opera. Yet Beijing Opera was a strong influence in the creation of the Junkies’ latest project. You might not actually hear it, but it’s there in the fabric of Renmin Park, a recently released concept album reborn out of a family pilgrimage to China.

Margo’s brother Michael Timmins wasn’t looking for his next musical project when he set off for the city of Jingjiang two years ago with his family. He was looking for something much more profound: His young daughters, then 6 and 11, had both been adopted from China. (He also has a biological son, who was 8 at the time.) On this trip, the girls would visit the orphanages where they began their lives and be immersed in their native culture.

Michael planned to take a three-month break from music while there, but this proved impossible. He started attending a daily gathering of Beijing opera fans – a sort of karaoke club where a handful of people of varying musical talents would play instruments and sing Beijing Opera. At the park where they met, he also heard folk music and “bad pop music blaring out of boom boxes.” He found a local music fanatic who schooled him in good Chinese pop.

* * *

For Renmin Park, the band built tracks around loops of Michael’s field recordings. Along with the loose story of two lovers destined for disappointment are the sounds of Jingjiang: children singing, badminton players. It begins with a tinny recording of the music Michael’s family heard blaring out of a loudspeaker each morning, to which students would perform calisthenics. There are also two covers of Chinese pop songs.

* * *

The project has great personal meaning for Margo: It was not only born out of a life-altering trip for her nieces, but she herself is an adoptive mother. She adopted her son Ed, now 7, from Russia when he was 11 months old.

“The songs that deal with the adopted children, part of it is kind of exposing a part of my life,” she says. “It’s like reading your diary or your journal or something.... You’re standing there quite naked exposing your deepest emotions.
 At the band's website, you can find some blog posts and photos about the Renmin Park album.

Profile of Mei Magazine

Thought y'all might enjoy this newspaper profile of Mei Magazine:
Traci Wright admits that she and her husband, Paul, were a little naive when they got the idea of creating a new national magazine and publishing it from their Brandon home.

"Frankly, if we had known what we were getting ourselves into, we probably wouldn't have done it," she said.

What they were getting themselves into, they soon learned, was an awful lot of work for virtually no money.

But after five years, Wright wouldn't consider giving up Mei Magazine. It's a passion for her and an important part of the lives of her thousands of readers.

Mei, which is pronounced "may" and is the Mandarin Chinese word for "beautiful," targets Asian girls who have been adopted by American parents. The magazine has a fairly small but loyal readership, Wright said. Subscribers total about 2,500 girls throughout the United States and a few in other countries.
My girls are part of that small group of subscribers, and I've even written a piece for the magazine, so you can count us as fans of Mei Magazine!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Frogs

I've linked before to short-short fiction by Tai Dong Huai, an adult Chinese adoptee (see here (referencing the "Going Home Barbie") and here and here and here).  Here's an excerpt from another, called Frogs, about that moment of first meeting between adoptive parents and child:
And then it was just the three of us. A moment of stillness. My mom, her arms exhausted, tried to put me down. I wailed. She tried to pick me back up, but I screamed even louder. My father took a shot, but I continued going off like the victim of a murder-in-progress. At first, nothing could calm me. Not the American toys they brought, nor the Western fairy tales they read, nor the bright red pacifier they pushed toward my uncooperative lips. I only began to settle when they started to hop. How they came upon this solution they cannot, or will not, say. But the image is strong. A ten-month old Chinese girl in a hotel-issued crib, and two middle-aged white people hopping around the room in order to keep her still.

Even after two hours, after the people below banged on the ceiling and the couple next-door complained to the desk clerk, they continued to hop. "Like frogs," my adoptive mom will say at this point. "Sometimes together, sometimes taking turns, but never stopping until you finally fell off to sleep."

"We didn't know what we were going to do," my adoptive dad will add. "We were afraid we'd made the biggest mistake of our lives."

"But it wasn't," I'll say. "Right?"

My mom will smile and say, "We had them send up the two coldest beers they had."
I love her work, and love this description of her work in this review -- "just the right amount of resentment. Not too much; not too little. Just right." 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In Blind Pursuit of Racial Equality

As if we needed more proof that the "colorblind" approach to race and racism doesn't work, this study:
"Colorblindness" has emerged as central strategy for managing racial diversity in schools, business, politics, and the law, with the hope that deemphasizing racial differences will lead to equality, tolerance and inclusion. However, new research from the Kellogg School of Management shows that promoting colorblindness can lead people to turn a blind eye to even overt examples of racial discrimination and hamper the prospect for intervention.

In a new study entitled "In Blind Pursuit of Racial Equality?," researchers sought to determine the impact of colorblindness on elementary school students' capacity to recognize racially motivated incidents and subsequently report them to facilitate adult intervention.

* * *

In their experiment, the researchers explored the effects of promoting a colorblind approach to diversity among 8- to 11-year-old students. First, students reviewed different versions of a multimedia storybook, half received a colorblind version and the other half received a value-diversity version. In both stories, the narrator championed racial justice, but the colorblind version encouraged minimizing race-based distinctions, whereas the value-diversity version encouraged embracing these differences. ("We need to focus on how we are similar to our neighbors rather than how we are different" vs. "We want to show everyone that race is important because our racial differences make us special.")

After the storybooks were read, the students listened to three stories featuring varying degrees of racial bias: a control story in which a White child was marginalized by his White schoolmate's contribution to a school science project; an ambiguous story regarding a White student's exclusion of a Black student from his birthday party; and an explicitly biased story describing a White student's unprovoked assault of a Black student in a soccer game. After the stories, students were asked to describe the three events and their responses were video recorded.

The results found that students who had read the value-diversity version of the storybook were more likely to detect evidence of racial discrimination: 43 percent of students perceived discrimination in the ambiguous story and 77 percent perceived discrimination in the explicitly biased story.

In the colorblind condition, on the other hand, the frequency with which students detected discrimination dropped significantly, to 10 percent of children for the ambiguous story, and to only 50 percent in the explicit story—a scenario that portrayed overt evidence of racially biased behavior.

This decline in sensitivity has potentially severe consequences, according to the researchers. The students were later asked to recall the three stories presented to them via the storybook, and their video recorded descriptions were then presented to real schoolteachers. The students initially primed with a colorblind mindset described the stories in a manner significantly less likely to trigger adult intervention than students exposed to the value-diversity mindset.

* * *

"Despite good intentions to promote egalitarianism through colorblindness, our findings show that doing so sometimes elicits the exact opposite outcome, permitting even explicit forms of racial discrimination to go undetected and unaddressed," said Apfelbaum. "Perhaps most alarming, on the surface, colorblindness appears to work quite well—reported incidents of bias do decrease. In spite of such encouraging signs, however, our study suggests that colorblindness may not reduce bias as much as it adjusts the lens through which bias is perceived."
Think of the implications of that last paragraph for a minority child raised in a "colorblind" home -- the parents will hear very little about racialized incidents toward the child and think that their colorblind approach is working.  The child is likely to be confused by the difference between what she hears and what occurs to her.  She may well internalize incidences of bias, thinking there's something wrong with her instead of the bad actors.  And she'll never tell her parents . . . .

Monday, September 27, 2010

Underage Mothers Consenting to Adoption

According to Jane Jeong Trenka, this report (in Korean, and Google Translate doesn't help much) is about the new adoption law revision in Korea, and that under age birth mothers must now go to court to approve their relinquishments for adoption.  The concern is the presence of adoption brokers who are getting babies from under age women and selling them for as much as $20,000 for domestic adoption.

Did you know that in the U.S., in many states, a minor girl can voluntarily relinquish her child without judicial oversight, without counseling, without parental consent, without the impartial advice of any adult? I have a hard time with this -- I can't imagine a more life-altering choice for a girl than to place a child for adoption.

Another potentially life-altering decision for a girl is to have an abortion, and states go to great lengths to make sure that is an informed choice, including requirements that the girl be informed of her parenting options, the process for establishing paternity, the requirement that fathers pay child support, the state aid available for single mothers, etc. State statutes provide for parental notification or oversight by a judge.

But no such requirements when a minor girl signs away her parental rights in most jurisdictions in the United States.  Isn't there something wrong with this picture?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

21 Guidelines for Adoption

From the Beacon Herald of Canada:
Putting the needs of children and families first and acting in culturally appropriate ways that respect the sovereignty of countries are among 21 broadly based recommendations stemming from an inter-country adoption summit held in Stratford.

Conference co-chairperson Robert Ballard, associate chairperson of the speech communication program at the University of Waterloo, urged researchers, government and adoption agency representatives to use them as the basis for further dialogue and action.

Although there was not necessarily even majority agreement on the recommendations, Ballard said there's broad agreement that significant changes are required regarding inter-country adoptions.

Draft recommendations resulting from roundtable discussions include providing better support for birth families, more preparation for adoptive families and giving more attention to histories -- including medical histories -- of children up for adoption.

Consensus from roundtable discussions included a call for improved communication with international agencies such as UNICEF and a suggestion there needs to be longer list of countries-of-origin for adopted children.

Recommendations call on agencies, governments and families to respect the Hague Convention standard even for non- Hague adoptions.

* * *
 
Summarizing the thrust of the recommendations, Ballard said there needs to be more communication and collaboration among countries as well as "an increased level of trust and respect for cultural differences and sovereignty."

Developed nations have the money and often set the agendas, he said, but need to respect what nations such as Haiti, Vietnam or Ethiopia are doing.

Attention often is given to the adopting families because they are the ones pushing the adoption, he said, but there needs to be better education and support for the birth parents and for adoptees.

Ballard said the UW conference in Stratford is the first he knows of that has brought so many parties together having an interest in adoptions and where the organizer does not have a vested interest.

Ballard was himself adopted from Vietnam in 1975 at the conclusion of the Vietnam War and grew up in the U.S.
I sure like to see recommendations from a conference chaired by an adopted person, the persons most affected and usually most silenced in adoption.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Adoption-Themed Movie: Like Dandelion Dust

Like Dandelion Dust hit theaters yesterday, though it's been around the film festival circuit for about a year now.  Has anyone seen it?  I'd have to say the reviews have been "mixed." USA Today touts it as "the next Blind Side."  The New York Times praised the acting but called the movie formulaic, with this vaguely snooty concluding line: "The only wrinkle this tale has to offer is a concluding sequence set in Haiti, which feels vaguely exploitive. But for those who like this genre of film, this one executes the formula very well."

The movie is based on this book by Karen Kingsbury, a Christian writer.  Conventional wisdom would say not to expect the New York Times to give rave reviews to a Christian-themed movie.  But the Baptist Press review was also mixed:
So-called nightmare adoption scenarios are rare in the real world, but one is set to play out on the big screen Sept. 24 when "Like Dandelion Dust," based on a Karen Kingsbury best-selling novel, releases nationally.

The movie has a gripping storyline that many viewers will find compelling: a couple adopts a boy at birth, only to discover six years later that the birth parents are trying to get him back. The legal twist? The birth father, who was in jail that whole time and didn't even know he had a son until he was released, learns that his signature consenting to the adoption was forged. Because it was forged, the adoptive parents have no legal rights to the child. And, for the rest of the movie, the two couples fight for the 6-year-old boy, who, amazingly, didn't even know he was adopted.

As an adoptive parent of a 2-year-old boy, I love movies about adoption. "Bella" still ranks among my all-time favorites. Like Dandelion Dust, though, is a different matter.
The reviewer notes, "Watching it before you adopt is tantamount to watching "United 93" before you fly."  It's clear that his real concern about the movie is that it might deter some from adopting.  He even opines that the movie would be liked by adult adoptees who will be gratified to see that their birth parents and their adoptive parents love them and are willing to fight over them.  Hmmmm, somehow I'm thinking, not so much!

I'm pleased, though, that he mentions the inadvisability of NOT telling your child he's adopted, like the adoptive parents in this story did.  (What can I say, this blog isn't called Adoption Talk for nothin'!):
The general public likely also will overlook a storyline that was even more unbelievable: The boy was clueless as to his background.

Adoption agencies encourage adoptive couples to be honest with their children, telling them about their origins from the moment they learn to talk. It's the right thing to do and it avoids having to schedule "the talk" when they're older.
Right on!

I don't think I'll be seeing this movie, because I quite agree with the reviewer from Baptist Press on this point:  "It's not enjoyable in real life to watch couples battle over a child, and it's no more fun on the big screen."  Just not my cup of tea.

If you've seen it, let us know your thoughts!

Friday, September 24, 2010

A newborn adoption disrupted

So many disruption stories are about older child adoption and/or international adoption.  Here's one in the Chicago Tribune about a family that adopted a newborn domestically:
After Ellie endured dozens of clinicians and multiple hospitalizations, the Gertzes came to the sad realization that their daughter would never be able to function in the family constellation. They faced a wrenching dilemma: Do they give up their daughter to protect everyone else?

Lori Gertz told of the family's struggle in a blog, and she and her husband, Craig, 45, shared their story with the Tribune in an effort to help other families by raising awareness and calling for more resources for children with mental illness.

Eight years ago, giving up their daughter would have been unfathomable. The Gertzes had one son — Jonah, then almost 4 — and longed to have more children, but, after seven miscarriages and Lori Gertz nearing 40, the window was closing. So they turned to adoption.

Eventually, a 34-year-old New Jersey woman chose them from an online site, just eight weeks before her due date. On Jan. 5, 2003, Lori Gertz accompanied the birth mother into the delivery room. She was the first one to hold and feed the 8-pound newborn.

"No one could have felt luckier and more joyful than us," Lori Gertz said. "We have beautiful photos of that day … proof of a mother doing only what was in the best interest of her child. I wish she had that presence of mind when Ellie was in utero."

* * *

In 2005, it took Ellie pushing Lori Gertz — now eight months pregnant with Talia — down a flight of stairs for others to recognize this wasn't about the "terrible twos" or bad parenting. This was something that could not have been prevented by the Gertzes.

When they met Ellie's birth mother, she revealed few habits beyond bingo and cigarettes, and nothing in her pristine medical records suggested otherwise.

Only after the woman's brother started e-mailing the Gertzes did they discover other vices. She began drinking and smoking pot in her teens, graduating to PCP, then crack cocaine, a routine she continued during her first trimester. "I know she was clean for the remainder of her pregnancy because she was in jail," wrote the brother.
Read the whole thing, and then let us know what you think.

Lessons for Social Workers

From Social Work Today mag, a piece about the lessons social workers can learn from the Russian adoption debacle where adoptive mom Tory-Ann Hansen sent 8-year-old Artyom alone back to Russia saying she no longer wanted to parent the child she'd adopted less than a year before:
In this blame game, many longstanding questions surface about social work practice and policy in international adoption. Social workers counseling prospective adoptive parents need advanced knowledge of the unique challenges facing any adoptive family, families who adopt children with difficult histories, and children from other countries, including Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Clinicians need a sound grasp of the clinical, policy, and ethical dilemmas involved in international adoption so they can provide effective care.

* * *

Intercountry adoption presents predictable issues for children. Some U.S. adoptive parents gravitate toward adopting a child from another country because they want no contact with the child’s birth family. This lack of understanding a child’s need for connection, identity, and information may deepen the child’s sense of loss. Today’s adoptive parents are advised to maintain some sort of contact with the child’s birth family and weave the child’s ethnicity into the fabric of adoptive family life by, for example, eating foods, celebrating holidays, speaking the language, or socializing with people from the child’s country of origin. Doing so can be hard in a family’s busy life and requires earnest, sincere, ongoing parental commitment and effort.

While all adoptees encounter loss, children adopted from other countries face additional losses. These may be minimized, denied, and dismissed in a world that sees adoptees as lucky to have been rescued from an orphanage or poverty abroad.

***

Adoption agencies are paid to make adoptions happen. This may create an incentive that does not serve the best interests of children or families. Biological families may not get the support they need to parent. Prospective adoptive parents may be encouraged to overlook misgivings about adoption as a path to parenthood or their compatibility with a particular child. Agencies may do an inadequate job of helping prospective parents with unrealistic expectations screen themselves out of the adoption process.

* * *

Families are best able to explore these issues in the context of a noncoercive collaborative relationship with a clinician who is well educated about adoption issues and takes a nonjudgmental, strengths-based stance. Each adoptive family needs access to a longstanding relationship with an adoption-informed clinician who can help them navigate the turbulent waters they may encounter on the lifelong adoption journey. Training programs to prepare clinicians for this highly specialized work are needed.

* * *

The decision to parent is a leap of faith—in oneself, the child, and the future. Children in Eastern European orphanages desperately need families. Justice, which forms the heart of social work’s mission, demands that all reasonable efforts be made to keep children safe within the protection of their birth families; when that is impossible, they are best served when nurtured and protected by families within their countries of origin. International social welfare programs should pursue these goals. When children cross national boundaries for adoption, their new families also need support and compassion.
Really good stuff here!  But I'd like to think that ALL adoption social workers already know all of this. . . .


And what about this line:  "[Adoption} Agencies may do an inadequate job of helping prospective parents with unrealistic expectations screen themselves out of the adoption process." Huh?  Why do we talk about PAPs screening themselves out?  Isn't that the social worker's job???

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How Did You Celebrate?


We had a fun Autumn Moon Festival  celebration last night.  Because of after-school activities we couldn't start until after 7 p.m., so we kept it simple.  We met good friends at a Chinese restaurant for dinner.  It's always funny when we go to this particular restaurants.  Our friends have been going much longer than we have to this particular restaurant, so long that they've nicknamed it "Baby Chinese," since Sydney has been going there since she was a baby.  Our family has discovered the restaurant more recently. 

Now, the one thing our families have in common is that we have children from China.  And, yes, the other mom and I can be proud of our (ahem) zaftig figures.  But no one would confuse one for the other.  But we've managed to completely confuse the poor Chinese man who owns the restaurant.  Sometimes Zoe goes with the other family.  Sometimes she comes with our family.  Sometimes our two families go together.  I'm thinking Sydney might have gone with us one time.  So now this poor man can't figure out who is who and which kids belong with whom.  It's always a hoot!

Anyway, this so nice man brought us moon cakes to surprise the girls, and they were, indeed, delighted.  They threw themselves on the gift with all appropriate shrieks and squeals, very pre-teen girly behavior.  So our sweet restaurant owner surely had no doubts about how much his gift was appreciated.

And yes, the moon cake had an egg yolk in the center to represent the moon!

We also shared all the varied stories we knew about the Moon Festival -- Lady Chang Er sent to the moon for taking her husband's immortality pill, the rebels using moon cakes to pass notes about when to attack, the General's daughter using a moon cake to pass escape plans to her captured father. . . .

Afterwards, we did some moon gazing, and all three girls were sure they saw Lady Chang Er in the full moon -- Maya claimed to be able to see her eyelashes!

So how did you celebrate the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival?

Hard Truths of Some Adoptions

From the Motherlode blog at the New York Times, Lisa Belkin introduces a post from KJ Dell’Antonia about adopting kids who already have a family, but still need one, as follows:

A friend, an adoptive mother, said to me recently, “I have faced the fact that my daughter is only mine because I have more money than her birth mother.” That is a simple reality of adoption, she says, and yet it is so rarely spoken aloud.
Indeed.  And here's what Dell'Antonia has to say about adopting her daughter from China, about taking her away from a loving foster home:

“I want to go home.”

It doesn’t really matter what or where home is, especially not if you’re a young kid, parted from your culture and country and navigating a world where nothing means what it once did. Whatever home is to you, when you’re miserable, when the world is hard and uncomforting, the craving is universal: I do not want to endure. I want to go home.

When my daughter, adopted at nearly 4 years old from China but from a largely English-speaking home, first came to us, she said those words loud and clear, and she said them often. When you watch Sui Yong, the 8-year-old at the center of PBS’s documentary “Wo Ai Ni, Mommy (I love you, Mommy),” adoptive mother Donna Sadowsky can’t understand the phrase, spoken by her daughter in Chinese — but the viewer can read the subtitles, and Sadowsky can read the rest: the tears, the tone, and the defeated little body curled up in the bed.

In adoption parlance, “Faith” Sadowsky has “come home,” but the Sadowsky house isn’t home for Sui Yong.

When asked by her daughter — later — why she wanted a child from China, mother Donna Sadowsky says she told the girl that “I needed a daughter, and you needed a family.” It’s not an unusual line; in fact, it’s fairly standard. It’s as good a way as any of making sense of the many forces that bring together parents and children in the adoption world. But from that child’s point of view — and from my own daughter’s — it isn’t true. Like many of the older children adopted from China now (and most Chinese adoptions now are of children older than 2 years) Sui Yong, now Faith, and my daughter already had families. Loving, close, treasured families. Families they couldn’t keep.
Zoe was not in foster care, and Maya was.  Maya was the first child her foster parents had fostered, and they've gone on to foster others, at least two of whom were adopted abroad and one of whom was adopted domestically.  Maya was with them for 10 months and they heard her first word and saw her first step.  They were very loving, as evidenced by the ease of Maya's transition to our family, and by the fact that they still -- 7 birthdays later -- send a present for Maya's birthday.

Yes, Maya is perfectly happy and thriving in our family.  But I still feel pain at what she has lost.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Mid-Autumn Moon Festival!

Cool, huh?  That's a mooncake mold!   You can see many others at a wonderful cake site, tpcalcake.

Talk About Rescue Mentality!

This tweet from a prospective adoptive parent:

Leaving on a mission to free an orphan. Sweet daughter your family is on their way, only a few hours separate us now! #adoption #Ukraine
A mission?! Free an orphan?! Yikes!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Close Encounters of the Intrusive Kind

We've all experienced it -- intrusive, uncomfortable questions or behavior directed toward our transracially adopted children.  Here are three posts discussing that phenomenon from two adoptive parents and one adoptee:

When They Don't Get It, from Our Little Tongginator:
The other day someone walked up to me at a public event, gestured to the Tongginator, and asked, "where did you get her?" Okay, so maybe I'm overly sensitive about this, but... GET her? As if I ran down to Target and purchased some toilet paper, a bag of chips, baby wipes and, oh, a CHILD. Thankfully the Tongginator did not hear the woman's comment and I replied, "we adopted our daughter from China."

That's when she pointed across the room to her daughter and said, "I just thought we might have that in common."

The encounter made me stop. It made me think. I don't exactly know how to navigate situations such as these, when someone walks up to me - out of the blue - to discuss adoption topics. Usually the Tongginator also hears the comment, so I draw my daughter into the conversation, asking if she'd like to discuss the topic and, when she says no (and she ALWAYS says no), I share that my daughter doesn't usually wish to discuss such personal matters with people we do not know.

But how to navigate when the questioner is a fellow adoptive parent who either used an unfortunate turn of phrase that just so happens to be a hot button for me?
Please Don't Pet My Daughter, from On African Tyme:
This morning Rodas and I were picking out some peaches at the grocery store when a woman walks up to Rodas--without even glancing my way or saying anything--and starts combing her hands through Rodas' hair. She then grabs Rodas' chin and tries to get her to look at her. She's not really aggressive, but she's very direct and her manner was as though she was looking for something on Rodas (lice? Trying to see if Mom was taking care of her hair? I don't know...). I was very taken aback. Rodas was as well, as she immediately stiffened up and withdrew (as if to say, go ahead and touch me but I'm taking my soul out of it). She's done this before and I know she likes to be the one to initiate physical touch (as it should be) ESPECIALLY from strangers. I know I wouldn't enjoy some complete stranger walking up to me and running their hands through my hair and looking me over like a doll they might buy.

I firmly tried to give the woman the hint to remove her hands from my daughter by saying "Excuse me, my daughter's not used to complete strangers coming up and petting her." I said it with a smile to lighten it, but obviously it was too light because the woman tried to get Rodas to look at her once again then she just smiled at us and walked off!
It's a Small World, But Not THAT Small, from adult adoptee Paula at Heart, Mind & Seoul:

Setting: Family chain restaurant, c. 1990, predominantly white suburb in the Midwest

Characters: Myself (19 years old) and well meaning white couple, approximately 50 years old

***

"Hello, my name is Paula and I'll be your server today. May I bring you anything to drink right away?"

"Hi there." Stares curiously at me. Tell me, dear, by any chance are you a Korean?"

"Yes I am."

"Are you adopted?"

"Yes, ma'am." (Oh help me, where is this going?)

"By any chance do you know Steve?"

"Steve?"

"Yes, Steve. I believe he's a Korean and adopted as well. Our friends got him a while ago."

"No, I'm sorry I don't."

"Are you sure? Because he's a Korean. And adopted. Like you."
Go read all three posts in their entirety, Then come back and talk!

So, adoptive parents, what has been your worst encounter with a stranger?  How did you approach it?  Has your approach changed over time, as your child gets older? Adoptees, what encounters do your remember from childhood?  How did your parents approach it?  How did you wish your parents had handled it?  As adults, how do you handle intrusive incidents?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wait For the Punch Line

From the Joplin Globe:
A Missouri couple is trying to get their 10 adopted children back, but they stand accused of making some of those children sleep in calf huts and a truck trailer in their backyard.

Sharon and Reed Leonard were charged in August with misdemeanor child endangerment, almost a year after an investigation by the Newton County Sheriff’s Department and state child-welfare workers determined some of the children allegedly were forced to stay outside the couple’s home north of Neosho. Sharon Leonard, 51, also was charged with felony child abuse.

* * *

“What I was told was they were given their meals on the porch of the home and had to ask permission from the parents to go inside and get ready for school,” Detective Dale Brashers said of the children allegedly forced to sleep in the backyard.

* * *

The Leonards moved to Newton County in November 2008 from Wisconsin, where they’d operated the Hearts of Hope Adoption Ministry, a not-for-profit organization offering assistance in international adoptions, and Abiding Acres Kennel, a dog-breeding business.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Review: We See the Moon

We See the Moon, by Carrie A. Kitze

This is one of our favorite books!  We decided to read it today because it makes us think of the upcoming Moon Festival.  I adore the illustrations -- each a different Chinese Peasant painting with vibrant colors and village scenes, many with images of the moon.  I like that the book gives kids an opportunity to think and ask questions about their birth parents. 

When I asked Zoe what she'd say the book was about, she said, "It's about MEEEE!"  How is it about you, I asked?  Zoe said "It's about a girl like me who was born in China and who wonders about her birth parents." Zoe especially likes the passage that suggests she and her birth parents can feel closer by looking at the same moon.   Zoe also said, "Some kids think about their birth parents but they might not ask questions about them.  Maybe if their mom read them this book they'd know it was okay to ask questions."

Maya is my reluctant-to-talk girl when it comes to adoption and birth parents.  But she relished reading this book to us, using her first-grade reading skills.  She agreed that the book was "about Zoe," but not so much about her.  But when I asked her about her favorite part, she picked a passage where the adoptee says she wishes her birth parents could know that she is happy and loved and at home in her new family.  That's what resonated with her.

I'm a huge fan of discussing adoption, birth parents, loss, etc., openly and often with my girls.  This book is an excellent tool for promoting adoption talk.  Even though my girls are so different in how they think and feel about their adoptions, they both love this book!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Who is a Family?

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on a new study tracking American attitudes toward "family:"
As much as Americans revere the family, they differ sharply on how to define it.

New research being released Wednesday shows steadily increasing recognition of unmarried couples — gay and straight — as families. But there's a solid core resisting this trend who are more willing to include pets in their definition than same-sex partners.

How "family" is defined is a crucial question on many levels. Beyond the debate over same-sex marriage, it affects income tax filings, adoption and foster care practices, employee benefits, inheritance rights and countless other matters.

The new research on the topic is contained in a book-length study, "Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans' Definition of Family" and in a separate 2010 survey overseen by the book's lead author, Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell.

Between 2003 and 2010, three surveys conducted by Powell's team showed a significant shift toward counting same-sex couples with children as family — from 54 percent of respondents in 2003 to 68 percent in 2010. In all, more than 2,300 people were surveyed.

Powell linked the changing attitudes to a 10 percent rise between 2003 and 2010 in the share of survey respondents who reported having a gay friend or relative.
OK, I admit it, I'm not a huge pet person.  Sure, growing up I loved my cat, Smoky, enough to run away and take her with me when I thought my parents' grumbling about some Smoky infraction meant they were really going to give her away (I didn't get very far, but what do you expect of an eight-year-old with really inadequate planning skills?!).  But I cringe with every post on APC where a waiting parent lists their "furbabies" in their description of their family. And I'm shocked that this study shows that "there's a solid core . . . who are more willing to include pets in their definition than same-sex partners."  Sheesh.  Can we get some perspective, please?! A gay couple raising two children isn't a family, but an old lady with a houseful of cats is?!

Zoe's Note to Maya

I mentioned in the birthday post that Zoe had written a note to Maya for her birthday.  Zoe wants me to share it on the blog, and it's so sweet I can't resist!
Dear Maya,

Today is your birthday; now you are 7 years old!  I have a present for you.  It is too small to see and too big to hold.  (Answer:  L-O-V-E)

You're the best and only sister I ever had.  Sometimes when I'm alone I think about you.   I love the times when I help you.  I'm sorry for scaring you.

I know when you say, "I hate you.  Go away,"  I know you don't mean it.  You only really mean that you are mad.  I understand.

When I was a little girl making Mama play with me, I knew at that moment I would have you.  Other than getting Mama or Mimi, you're the best thing that's happened to me  When I'm at school I pray that God will keep you safe.  Happy Birthday!

Love, Zoe -- your big sister
Isn't that the funniest (you're the best and only sister I have!) and sweetest note ever?! I think I'm going to cry now. . . .

"Race Isn't What Defines Me"

A great academic article about racial identity formation, comparing monoracial (both parents black), biracial (one parent white, one parent black) and transracial (both parents white) families -- here's the abstract:
Transracial adoption, particularly the adoption of black children by white parents, has been a controversial issue in the United States for more than half a century. Much of the criticism surrounding transracial adoption has dealt with concerns that black children raised in white homes will fail to develop a positive black identity. Such critiques are often based on assumptions about the identity of black children raised by their biological parents, yet there is little focus placed on black children raised in black homes who may or may not also struggle with racial identity development. This study addresses a void in the literature by examining the experiences of young black adults whose parents may or may not be of the same race. The impact of varying racialized family structures on black identity development is examined by comparing the experiences of young black adults raised in families with two black parents (monoracial), one white and one black parent (biracial), and two white parents (transracial). Drawing from 32 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with middle-class young black adults between the ages of 18 and 30 years old, findings indicate that all informants, regardless of racialized family structure, approach racial identity development similarly by de-emphasizing the ascribed status of race in favor of achieved statuses as part of the identity construction process.
To get the whole article, scroll down to the bottom of the page, under the heading "Get This Document."  Click on the first link for All Academic (the second link is a dead end).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Maya Is Seven Today!


Yep, that's a 7-year-old you're looking at!  Maya would tell you she had a fabulous day, the best day of her life (but then, she's told me each day at school pickup that "Today was the best day of my life," so it's a little hard to judge!).

Zoe woke up her little sister by playing "Happy Birthday" on the piano this morning, and Maya hopped out of bed suitably dressed in her birthday suit -- for some reason she felt like disrobing during the night!  Zoe also wrote Maya a really sweet letter saying how happy she was that she and Maya are sisters.  Awwww!

Maya loved every present -- a Star Wars blanket, a big-girl watch ("it's not digital!"), books, DVDs, Polly Pocket stuff, Littlest Petshop stuff, Star Wars legos, TicTacs (yes, the breath freshener TicTacs -- she loves them!). .  .

The highlight,  however, was the special trip to the post office to pick up a package from China, and as expected, it was a birthday present from Maya's foster family.  They sent 12 jade pendants -- for each animal in the Zodiac!

But I see 13, I hear you cry!  They sent an extra dragon pendant for Zoe! They are so sweet to include Zoe in each present they send for Maya's birthday.

So Happy Birthday, Maya!  I'm glad it was a happy one!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Open Thread -- In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee

ARGH!!!!  Pledge drive has thrown this one off the air in my area!  So now I REALLY need to know what you think -- not sure when I'll have a chance to watch it on line.  Soooo. . . . .

Reactions?


Thoughts?

Feelings?

Opinions?

Please share!

Autumn Moon Festival is coming!

September 22 is the Autumn Moon Festival, so I thought I'd share some links:

Great Children's Books for the Moon Festival  Tonggu Mama has compiled a list of excellent children's books about the Moon Festival -- check your local library or order them online now to have them available for the 22nd.

What is the Moon Festival? At Grace Lin's blog, some information about the Moon Festival, and information about her newest book, Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (also on Tonggu Mama's list!).

Calendar of Moon Festival Events in the U.S. & Canada

Legends of the Moon Festival  From Childbook.com, explanation of the legend of Lady Chang Er as well as a few others.

Easy Chinese Moon Cake Recipe So easy your child can do it (with a little help!)

Moon Cake Recipe Not so easy, but you can do it (with a little help from your child!)

Moon Poems A few Chinese poems about the moon, traditionally read on the Autumn Moon Festival (English translation).

Free Printable Worksheets about the Moon Festival  Includes word search and word jumble.

Free E-cards for the Moon Festival

Monday, September 13, 2010

Adoption Wackos & Grace

This blogger took issue with my post about religion, culture & adoption, and some posts from other bloggers she describes as "hand-wringing" and "guilty-feeling" adoptive parents  in a post titled Adoption Wackos and Grace.  She's since taken the post down (how passive-aggressive of her!), explaining:

I blogged earlier about some adoption posts that really disturbed me, but on further reflection I've decided it was more condemnation than judgment that motivated me to write it, so I am taking it down. (thanks, Mis).

This isn't cowardice or capitulation; I simply don't need the trouble of responding to the comments of a group of very hostile and unhappy people. And as much as those posts disturbed me, I think I need to pray for those people and their adoptive children much more than I need to needle them.

Subject (and comments) closed.
 BTW, the "very hostile and unhappy comment "I posted was asking her WHY she thought my post wacky, since she didn't explain in her post, other than to say I "debated" the topic, as if that was a bad thing! While she is busy praying for me  (seeing as how I'm very hostile and unhappy!) and my poor adopted children, I will be busy laughing and shaking my head . . . .

Adoption wackos?  Pot, meet kettle!

New Haircuts















I'm not sure what got into them, but the girls suddenly decided they wanted short hair!  On Thursday, Zoe looked at me critically and said, "Don't you need a haircut?"  Gee, thanks!  But that concern for the state of my hair was sufficiently unusual that I knew something was up.  "Why do you ask," I asked.  Zoe replies, "Well, if you need to get a haircut, maybe I could get a haircut, too."  Aha, that's more like it, center-of-the-universe girl!

So, on Friday, when the girls didn't have school, I got a haircut because I needed it, Zoe got a haircut because she wanted it, and Maya got a haircut because Zoe got one.  I was pretty amazed -- they've both insisted for years that they wanted their hair long and never wanted scissors to touch it. Maya got the little-girl bob, sans bangs, and Zoe got the slightly more grown up version with short stacked hair in the back tapering longer in the front.  Maya really got tickled that she had some guy named Bob on her head. . . .

I think they look as cute as can be, and picking up Zoe from school today I got an awfully long litany of people who love her new 'do!  Maya is more interested in the fact that she has two loose teeth, which explains her grimace in the picture above -- she can't pass a mirror without checking to see if she's lost a tooth yet!

On PBS Tomorrow: In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee

Don't forget, tomorrow, Tuesday, September 14, is the last in the series of three documentaries about adoption shown on PBS.  This one is In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee:

Her passport said she was Cha Jung Hee. She knew she was not. So began a 40-year deception for a Korean adoptee who came to the United States in 1966. Told to keep her true identity secret from her new American family, the 8-year-old girl quickly forgot she had ever been anyone else. But why had her identity been switched? And who was the real Cha Jung Hee? In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee is the search to find the answers, as acclaimed filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem (First Person Plural, POV 2000) returns to her native Korea to find her “double,” the mysterious girl whose place she took in America.
To check the schedule for In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee in your area, click here.

The Anatomy of an International Adoption Crisis

E.J. Graff's Foreign Policy article is out.  She examines adoption from Vietnam in 2007-08 as a case study in larger problems of international adoption:
It seemed like a nightmare right out of Kafka. In late 2007 and early 2008, Americans with their adopted babies in arms, or pictures of babies to come, were being stonewalled by faceless U.S. bureaucrats. The U.S. government refused to issue visas that would allow those babies to come home from Vietnam -- and wouldn't explain why.

Thirteen families, supported by dozens of other parents-to-be, desperately did what they could to attract publicity, calling in the New York Times, ABC News, and members of Congress. They launched campaigns on the web, sent petitions to friends and neighbors, and barraged the relevant offices with pleas for help. And still, for months, the State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) refused to issue their babies the requisite visas -- for reasons that seemed irrelevant. One couple from Queens, New York, said they were told that the baby they had legally adopted in Vietnam would not be able to come home with them for what they called a "bewilderingly minute point": A Tam Ky Orphanage guard in Vietnam's Quang Nam province had failed to note the child's arrival in his logbook.

But inside their fog of secrecy, the faceless bureaucrats were also agonizing about the well-being of the children and their families. Based on hundreds of pages of documents received via Freedom of Information Act requests, this article gives a never-before-seen glimpse at how the State Department discovered what it believed to be a gray market in "adoptable" babies and debated what to do about it, trying each of its inadequate tools in turn.

According to these internal documents, the State Department was confident it had discovered systemic nationwide corruption in Vietnam -- a network of adoption agency representatives, village officials, orphanage directors, nurses, hospital administrators, police officers, and government officials who were profiting by paying for, defrauding, coercing, or even simply stealing Vietnamese children from their families to sell them to unsuspecting Americans. And yet, as these documents reveal, U.S. officials in Hanoi did not have the right tools to shut down the infant peddlers while allowing the truly needed adoptions to continue. Understanding how little the State Department and USCIS could do, despite how hard they tried, helps reveal what these U.S. government agencies need to respond more effectively in the current adoption hot spots, Nepal and Ethiopia -- and in whatever country might be struck by adoption profiteering next.
A truly disturbing and fascinating read, and an important contribution to the ongoing policy debate about international adoption.

Beyond the Global Cabbage Patch

From the History News Network, an interesting piece from Karen Dubinsky, author of Babies Without Borders: Adoption & Migration Across the Americas.  She notes the dichotomy of America's anti-immigrant attitudes and America's number-one ranking in adopting foreign-born children:
The U.S. is currently experiencing paroxysms of immigration anxieties, at the same time as remaining the country with the highest international adoption rate in the world. How do we understand this enthusiastic embrace of the “needy Third World child” with cold shoulder—even cocked rifle—turned towards adults from the same place?

***

One-dimensional notions of adoption as rescue have combined with very specific modern North American definitions of childhood innocence. This creates a certain wishful “racelessness” when it comes to babies.

***

Despite the pictures we see on the news or in adoption agency advertising, the world is not a cabbage patch. Babies do not sit alone, removed from parents, neighbours, and communities, waiting for Westerners to rescue them.

***

It’s easy to be blinded by the dazzling pleasures of child rescue not just because of our investment in sentimental notions of children, but also because we think of children as politically neutral. The separation of children from political citizenship is one of the mainstays of our world. We guard our children’s political innocence the way earlier generations “protected” women from the sordid messiness of voting and such. But a long history of child adoption and migration conflicts show us how inseparably children are attached to adult political worlds.
Dubinsky weaves examples from Cold War era Cuba, modern-day Guatemala, and post-earthquake Haiti to show how adult political ideas are "fought through and for children." Well worth a read.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An Adopted Linebacker With an Unlikely Story

Ready for some football?! (Um, we're really not that into it -- last year when Zoe's teacher suggested to the class that they write about what they were doing for the Superbowl, Zoe raised her hand and asked, "What's the Superbowl?")  Here's an adoption article from the Wall Street Journal to mark the beginning of football season:
Bryan Kehl leans back, smiles and says his dad has always been a "storyteller."

He wraps exaggerated finger quotes around that last word to make it clear the stories his father tells aren't always rigorously fact-checked.

Six of Gary and Nancy Kehl's nine children were adopted, including Bryan. As a rule, there were never any distinctions made about whose genes came from where: Everyone was to be treated equally. But there was always one exception—and it always involved Bryan.

Giants linebacker Bryan Kehl was adopted. He didn't find out until last year that his father was NFL journeyman running back Maurice Turner.

.In one of those yarns that his dad was so fond of telling, Bryan's biological father was an NFL running back. "I wasn't sure it was true," he says. "Like I said, my dad tells stories.''

The first time Bryan touched a football, however, out in the family's backyard in Salt Lake City, he decided to play running back. All through youth football and until he went to high school, he was a running back. Now, some 20 years after that first run, he thinks his fondness for carrying the ball was influenced by family lore. "I'm sure that had something to do with it. My brothers all played defense."

Mr. Kehl is a strapping 26-year-old linebacker entering his third season for the New York Giants. He's no longer a running back. He plays defense like the rest of the Kehls.

But when it comes to his path to the NFL, there's something basic that Bryan Kehl doesn't know—whether his athletic talent was something bred into him by his parents, his siblings and his Utah childhood, or whether it was coded into his DNA.
The story covers his reunion with his birth dad (who really did play in the NFL) and his birth mom.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My 9/11 Memories


My 9/11 memories are all wrapped up in adoption. 

I'd received my referral for Zoe in late August 2001.  The night of September 10th, I'd stayed up late checking in on APC, the big China adoptive parent Yahoogroup (only it wasn't on Yahoo back then, I don't think), obsessively checking for rumors of when travel approvals would come.  I'd waited 12 months for Zoe's referral -- and back then that was a LONG time;  referral times were 6-9 months when I started the process.  I was anxious to get to China to meet my daughter.  I went to bed late, no closer to an answer on when I would travel.

I woke up late and groggy on the 11th, and as was my habit in those days, the first thing I did was check for rumors about travel approvals on APC.  There was a message on APC that a small plane had hit one of the towers.  How strange, I though, and kept trolling for rumors about travel approvals.  I checked every group I was on, no news, and went back to APC.  Now the messages were talking about an airliner hitting the tower, and the tower falling.  I turned on the TV just in time to see the first responders running toward the second tower.  You're going the wrong way, I thought.  That tower will fall, too.  And then it did.

As the day progressed I confess that my thoughts turned selfish -- how will this affect travel approvals?  How will this affect my adoption?  How can one even contemplate raising a child in this crazy, mixed up world?

A few months before, I'd started a "Waiting Families" group for FCC.  Our regularly-scheduled meeting was for the evening of the 11th.  In some ways, it didn't seem right to have that meeting.  In other ways, it didn't seem right not to have the meeting.  I sent out the question on our local email list.  Most chimed in that we should meet.  I think we all felt the need to be with other people that night.

One family attending the meeting had real concerns -- they were supposed to leave for China in two days to get their daughter.  They didn't make it, most flights were still grounded.  They ended up traveling a month later with me. I'm sure that family's memories of 9/11 are all mixed up with adoption, too.  Their misfortune inured to our benefit -- we got to travel with good friends who are good friends to this day.

Flying from DFW to San Francisco a month later was still eerie -- the plane was practically empty.  Seeing soldiers with machine guns in American airports was strange. The flight to Hong Kong was equally empty, equally strange.  My mom traveled with me, and my father was worried -- America bombed Afganistan while we were in China and he didn't like that his family was abroad when America was at war.  I wasn't worried;  I felt safer in China than in an America that, on one hand, felt like a target, and that, on the other hand, felt like it was going crazy with anti-Muslim sentiment that resulted in physical assaults on anyone perceived as Muslim.

Besides, I had other things to worry about -- being a parent for the first time!

Coming home to America with Zoe was very meaningful at that time.  Going through immigration in Los Angeles, our first American port of call, Zoe automatically became an American citizen. We took a photo alongside the first American flag we came across. 

We spent the night in L.A.;  checking in for our flight to DFW the next morning, the ticket clerk oohed and ahhed all over Zoe, and told me she'd highlight our boarding pass in yellow so Security would know we were OK -- how did she know we were OK, I wondered?!  And why was she telling us the signal that meant everything was OK?! Our flight was nearly empty again. 

We knew no one could meet us at the gate on arrival at DFW because of security, but our friends and family were out in force in the baggage claim area.  Patriotism was riding high, and the crowd bristled with American flags.  Zoe coming home was joyous, and wrapped up in the patriotism inspired by 9/11.

The picture above is of one of the signs my friends from work carried to celebrate Zoe's home-coming.  It still hangs in our hallway almost 9 years later.

So what does 9/11 mean now, 9 years later?  When a group-Koran-burning was narrowly averted?  When there are protests against mosques throughout the United States, not just near the site of terrorist attacks?  When the "us" versus "them" rhetoric is heating up?  When the category of "perpetual foreigner" seems deeply entrenced?

Today, I like the fact that my children are doing something "American" -- they're attending the first day of Chinese School.  Because there is nothing inconsistent in being from China and being American!

9/11: Chinese-American Heroes

AsianWeek, which has a Chinese-American Heroes column, remembers two Chinese-American hereos of 9/11 today.

International Adoption in Crisis

In the Guardian, a preview of an upcoming piece by E.J. Graff (author of the Lie We Love):
Two years ago this month, the US and Vietnam let lapse the three-year bilateral agreement that allowed Americans to adopt Vietnamese children. The US embassy in Hanoi had concluded that "the overwhelming majority" of infant adoptions from Vietnam involved fraud: at best, falsified official documents; and at worst, defrauded, coerced or paid-off birth families who had not consented to sending their children abroad for adoption. All told, 2,200 Vietnamese-born children were adopted to the US during that period, according to the state department; approximately another 2,000 were adopted to France, 950 to Italy, 475 to Ireland, and 250 to Sweden.

The 2008 US-Vietnam closure was one in a long, stuttering series of crises in international adoption. In an upcoming article "Anatomy of an Adoption Crisis" in Foreign Policy Online, I analyse hundreds of pages of often shocking internal US state department documents (received under Freedom of Information Act requests) discussing that adoption crisis. These documents show how determined the US embassy in Hanoi was to block fraudulent or corrupt adoptions – and how little power it had to do so, both in Vietnam, and in other countries that have had similar crises, such as Cambodia, Guatemala, Nepal and Romania.

Why? Fifteen years after 66 countries negotiated the 1993 Hague convention on inter-country adoption, why couldn't the US state department screen out the "bad" adoptions and continue the "good" ones? The Hague adoption convention was supposed to streamline the adoption of children who legitimately needed new homes, and "prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children" for adoption by policing "improper financial gain".
Looks to be a fascinating piece.  Keep an eye on Foreign Policy Online for the new piece -- I know I will!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dawn, Vygotsky and the Zone of Proximal Development

Ooooooh, I love big words and even bigger ideas!  Dawn at This Woman's Work talks about scaffolding and adoption talk:
Here’s a down and dirty rundown:

•Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who believed that our development is shaped by the people around us;

•Scaffolding is the idea that together we help each other learn (this term is not Vygotsky’s but it was developed from his ideas);

•the Zone of Proximal Development is the space between what we know and what we can learn with someone else’s help.

I was thinking about scaffolding on the context of talking about adoption and thinking about how many of us don’t/can’t do it. I see this in some of the discussion on Open Adoption Support and on other blogs, how hard it is to talk to our kids about adoption. Some of us get as far as developing a Life Book but don’t get any further. And some of us say, “Well, this is my child’s story and I don’t want to influence it. I will let them bring it up. I will let them write the narrative.”

But what we’re doing is ignoring that Zone of Proximal Development; we are not helping our children over the gap.
Go! Read!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

China Making Adjustments in One Child Policy

I think my headline is a bit more realistic -- the headline in Time is China Could Overthrow One-Child Rule:

The Chinese government is beginning to rethink its famed one-child limit as it begins to lift the restriction in five provinces with low birth rates.

The pilot projects, which are set to begin in 2011, allow for a second child per family if at least one spouse is an only child. USA Today reports that Beijing, Shanghai and four other provinces will follow suit in 2012, with nationwide adoption of the new policy expected by 2013 or 2014. In 1979, China's one-child policy was introduced after decades of huge population boom followed by mass death due to resulting food shortages. The policy, which has prevented 400 million births, restricted the country's ethnic Han majority to have only one child per family (exempting most ethnic minorities) and has remained nearly the same since, though a few exceptions have been made. (Some rural farm families have been allowed to have a second child if the first is a girl.)

A wide gender imbalance, as well as the need for more children to care for parents, has likely influenced the government's tight control on the country's birthrate.
What the article describes are some incremental changes.  The rule already allows more than one child when BOTH parents are only children, now it seems they will allow it when only ONE parent is an only child.  Incremental change, but a good change nonetheless.

Culture, Religion & Adoption

In a scene in Wo Ai Ni Mommy, newly-adopted 8-year-old Faith is shown kneeling in a Buddhist Temple in Guangzhou, China.  Many adoptive families visit this temple in Guangzhou to receive a Buddhist blessing of their newly adopted babies, some out of respect for Chinese culture, some because it's a "touristy" thing to do, some, I assume, because they are Buddhist.

But what struck me in the scene is that Faith knew what to do at the temple.  Certainly, she could have kneeled because someone off camera told her to, or she could have kneeled because she saw other Chinese people doing so.  But it could be that her foster family was Buddhist and regularly visited Buddhist temples. It got me thinking -- in older child adoption in particular, what obligation, if any, does a new adoptive family have to continue the child in his or her faith tradition?

In the matchy-matchy days of adoption, where all aspects from hair color & texture to social class of the child and the parents had to "match" before an adoption was approved, this issue wouldn't come up.  Social workers would never have placed a Catholic child in a protestant home, or vice versa. Only Jewish parents would be allowed to adopt a Jewish child. Even for newborn adoption (like newborns HAVE a religion?!), religion had to match.

We're much less matchy-matchy these days, in all aspects including race and religion.  Children from Haiti, which is overwhelmingly Catholic, are commonly adopted by non-Catholics.  Children from China are rarely adopted by Buddhists in America.  And what about children raised in an orphanage run by a Christian charity, presumably raised Christian -- should a Jewish family be permitted to adopt those children? What about an atheist family?

We frequently talk about the importance of maintaining "culture" for internationally/transracially adopted children -- how does religion play into this, especially for older children who have been raised in a particular faith tradition?  Certainly, religion is a subset of culture, but it is much more than that, too, isn't it?

So what do you think?  Should adoptive families, especially those with older children, work to keep their children connected to their original faith traditions?  Why or why not?  Discuss thoroughly!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pilot Project Helps Ethiopian Orphans Avoid Overseas Adoption

That's the headline for this Voice of America piece:
The Ethiopian government and a faith-based U.S. charity are teaming up on an experimental project to help orphans thrive in their home countries rather than be put up for adoption overseas. From the town of Bantu, our correspondent reports that the U.S. government is studying the project as Ethiopia becomes the nation of choice for American families seeking international adoptions.

Hundreds of Bantu's tiniest children stand in a muddy field at the Bright Hope Education Center, singing a welcome song to a team of foreign visitors led by U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

Three years ago, Bantu was little more than a collection of huts connected to the outside world by a footpath. Its population was decimated by drought and disease. Countless orphans were left to fend for themselves.

Today, many of these orphans attend classes and receive two meals a day at the newly built Bright Hope Education Center. The center is a joint project of the Ethiopian government and the Buckner Foundation, a Texas-based charity dedicated to helping children, and Ethiopia's Bright Hope Church.

Senator Landrieu has come to Bantu to look at how the project can be used as a model for reaching orphans and impoverished children worldwide.

* * *

Senator Landrieu says the overwhelming numbers [of orphans] dictate caring for orphans near their birthplace, while international adoption should be a last resort.
Nice to see that last quote from a Senator who is sponsoring the Families for Orphans Act.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Open Thread -- Off & Running

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Off & Running on PBS

Don't forget, the second of three documentaries about adoption will be shown on PBS tonight, Tuesday, September 7.  This one is called Off and Running:
Off and Running tells the story of Brooklyn teenager Avery, a track star with a bright future. She is the adopted African-American child of white Jewish lesbians. Her older brother is black and Puerto Rican and her younger brother is Korean. Though it may not look typical, Avery’s household is like most American homes — until Avery writes to her birth mother and the response throws her into crisis. She struggles over her “true” identity, the circumstances of her adoption and her estrangement from black culture. Just when it seems as if her life is unraveling, Avery decides to pick up the pieces and make sense of her identity, with inspiring results.
Click here to find times in your area -- just put in your zip code. It will also be available online starting Wednesday.

Monday, September 6, 2010

An Adopted Boy Considers His Origins

From the New York Times:
Jonah, our youngest, spent the day in the water again. At 5 he’s already an exquisite swimmer, diving for coins our Provincetown neighbors throw into the tide for him to fetch. Now we’re lying in his bed together waiting for him to fall asleep, and he’s thumping my stomach like it’s a beach ball.

“Are you going to have more babies in your belly?”

“You know I’ve never had any babies in my belly,” I tell him.

“Well, whose belly did I come out of?” he says.

My girlfriend, Molly, and I have always been frank about the fact that Jonah and his brother, Sam, were adopted, though until recently they’ve really only shown interest in the few details that feel glamorous: for instance, Jonah enjoys knowing that he was born on an island. The rest of how the kids came to us is so complex and adult, we’ve so far opted to leave it alone.

* * *

[Jonah's bio sister, adopted by another family] said, “You didn’t come out of your mommy’s belly.”

“Now isn’t the time for this conversation,” Molly told her.

“You didn’t,” Sister continued, “you came out of the same belly as me. Her name was Cheri.” For Jonah, that belly never had a name before. That name was so revelatory you could almost see a light bulb in a thought bubble hovering above Jonah’s head. He began crying louder.

To Molly and me, our children are so completely ours it feels impossible that anyone else had anything to do with them. But for Jonah, who knows? Some would say, for example, that it was the hand of God that saved his namesake, the original Jonah, from the belly of the whale; others, that it was luck that caused the beast to spit him out.

So here I am in the bed with our youngest boy, telling him the truth as I see it: “Some babies come out of their mommies, and some come through other bodies to get to their mommies. My body couldn’t make babies, so we had to find another way to get you here.” I’ve told him this before, but the story no longer satisfies the way it once did. He may be only 5, but it’s time for Jonah to begin making his own version of the narrative.

“Whose belly?” he demands.

“Her name was Cheri,” I say, affirming it for him.

“I should be there with her,” he says.

I take a breath. “No,” I tell him. “Wherever Sam and your other mommy and I are, that’s where your home is. That’s where you should be.” And in a sure sign he knows that what he’s hearing is correct, he begins to cry hard.
OK, shall we count the ways this is so very wrong?  How about a 5-year-old who doesn't know his birth mother's name? Like his older sister isn't going to tell him? A birth mother who is only a belly? A belly that is equated to the whale's belly that the "hand of God" delivered the child, Jonah, from? A belly with a name not shared with the child? A belly that is only a pass-through to the adoptive mother? An adoptive mother who can't accept that "anyone else had anything to do with" her adopted children? An adoptive mother who answers "who knows" to whether her son cares about his origins?   An adoptive mother who has made it harder for her son to "begin making his own version of the narrative?"

Labor Day 2010

Happy Labor Day!  It's de rigeur to decry the fact that the meaning of the holiday has been forgotten:

It's Labor Day, and that means millions of Americans are celebrating. Most Americans have no idea what Labor Day is, other than self-serving political speeches, hot dogs, burgers, a pool party, and the last day of a three-day holiday. Few even know that Labor Day exists to allow people to remember and honor the struggles for respect, dignity, and acceptable wages and working conditions for the rank-and-file employees.
Seems a perfect time to remember and honor, then, the labors of Chinese Americans in building the railroads.  Check out the Central Pacific Railroad Museum's Chinese-American Contribution to Transcontinental Railway.    And you might want to check out this children's book about Chinese Americans building the railway, Coolies.

Dear Amanda

Last night the girls and I were looking through the summer issue of Mei Magazine, the mag geared for China adoptees age 7 & up. One regular column in the magazine is the "Ask Amanda" feature, where adoptee & psychologist Amanda Baden answers a letter from an adoptee.  In this issue, the letter was from a girl who writes about confused feelings about her birth mother -- feeling like she should be with her, feeling like she was abandoned by her, feeling curious about her, wanting answers and feeling sad knowing the answers aren't likely.

After we read the letter, Zoe said, "I feel like that sometimes, but I don't feel abandoned!"  I asked why not, and she said, "Because I think my birth parents wanted to keep me but were too poor.  They didn't WANT to give me up!"  Wow, I'm glad Zoe is confident on that point!  I've always been careful to answer her questions truthfully, and truthful is usually "I don't know."  But we have speculated, and even then I'm careful to say "I don't know, but I think or I feel or I guess. . . ."

The final point in the letter is that the girl asks for help in thinking about her adoption in a different way, a way that would make her feel happy.  I asked Zoe if she had any advice for the girl and my smart girl said, "I don't think anything can make her happy all the time;  like, sometimes I'm sad about my birth parents.  But maybe if she knew more about some of the reasons her birth parents might've had for giving her up she wouldn't feel abandoned.  Like maybe her birth parents lived on a farm and were poor or something." [we're working on breaking the "like" habit, but it's slow going!]

But, I said, we don't know why your birth parents or the other girl's birth parents couldn't parent you.  Zoe agreed, but then she said, "We can estimate -- you know, like an estimate isn't like a guess, it's an educated guess? [There's that math learning from 3rd grade!]  We can know, like, all the reasons birth families can't keep their kids and then, like, decide which one feels true for us."

Zoe then decided she wanted to write to Amanda Baden:
Dear Amanda:

Sometimes I cry inside my heart because of my birth parents.  I'm curious about if my birth parents wonder about me.  I wonder about them.  I think maybe my birth parents might've lived on a farm and were too poor to take care of me.  I wonder if it's true.

Curious Forever,
Zoe (not Zoey)
Her email is winging its way to Mei Magazine! Who knows if she'll get an in-print response, but I hope she'll at least get something in reply to her email . . . .

BTW, Amanda Baden gave some of the same advice Zoe suggested -- focusing on the reasons birth parents might choose not to parent, rather than thinking there's something wrong with you that caused them to reject you.  Hmm, maybe I have a budding psychologist . . . .

Sunday, September 5, 2010

She can't be your mom, you don't match!

Amy Ford has written a book about transracial parenting, Brown Babies, Pink Parents. She also has a blog;  check out this post about the dreaded, "she can't be your mom, you don't match," comment:
It was a typical Friday afternoon and I was picking up my 6 year old from summer day camp. I was reading a notice about the outing for the following week when I heard my daughter talking to her friend. I didn't know the friend and it became obvious very quickly the friend didn't know our family either.

"She can't be your mom! Your skin don't match!" the new friend shrieked.

I turned around to see another brown 6 year old standing next to my own, whose face was now a mile long. My heart broke. I could see the embarrassment written all over my daughter. We have talked about these moments and even practiced with her what to say when someone questions the make up of our family. She knows that families come in all shapes and shades. She knows we all match on the inside even when our outsides don't. None of this mattered on a Friday afternoon in August at the YMCA summer day camp.
 Go read about the conversation that followed.

Has anyone bought the book?  I'd be interested in posting a review!

Follow That Bird & Transracial Adoption Conversations

Maya and I were on our own this morning since Zoe spent the night with a friend.  She wanted to watch Follow That Bird (as the little sister, poor Maya doesn't often get to pick the movie!), a 1985 Sesame Street flick, described as follows:
A meddling social worker sends poor Big Bird off to Ocean View, Illinois, for the comforts of family life with his "own kind," the Dodos. But Big Bird is a disaster as a Dodo and, lonely and homesick, he soon sets off on foot for Seasame Street. Can his old friends find him before he runs "afowl" of trouble en route?
At one point, the Dodos tell Big Bird he can't be friends with Snuffy, since Snuffy isn't a bird.  Maya was incensed -- "That would be like saying I can't be friends with C. (her "boyfriend!") because I'm Chinese and he's not!"  Maya also caught the same-same adoption theme --"I don't think that lady (the social worker bird) would let you adopt me, Mama."  We had a lovely discussion about transracial adoption, and how there are different opinions about it.  Maya said she thought people who are different can be a fine family.

Maya also said, "Mama, it's like adoption when Big Bird went with the Dodo family, but he ran away so they weren't his forever family.  . . ."  We talked about why Big Bird wanted to run away, that he missed his family and friends, and how adoption is supposed to be for children who didn't have family or whose families can't take care of them;  Big Bird already had a family on Sesame Street, Maya concluded.  And, she thought it was great that her Sesame Street family include grown-ups and kids and monsters and honkers and cows . . . .

FYI, the movie is on STARZ on Demand if you get that cable channel and want to watch it with your kids.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Only CERTAIN Families Need Apply

When blogging about the Georgia case where a trial judge denied an adoption by a woman "living in sin," I was struck by this notion -- many who are avidly pro-adoption, who decry the 132 million orphans without families, who equate orphan care with adoption, only want two heterosexual married parent families to adopt. Not surprisingly, as a single mother, I find this annoying and hypocritical.  I especially love that one of these orphan care organizations calls itself the Fatherless Foundation.  How nice that my children could receive grants from them -- but only to find a new family with a mom and a dad.

This blog post at Her.meneutics, the women's blog of Christianity Today, addresses this issue:
When I was considering adopting my daughter, one of the most disheartening things was the active discouragement of many Christians who told me point-blank that only married couples should adopt. It was bad enough, I thought, to be consigned to a life of singleness because of the lack of unmarried men in church. For people to say singles are unworthy to adopt a child who would otherwise be living in an orphanage boggled my mind.

* * *

I also e-mailed another member of Highview, Russell Moore, senior vice president at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, dean of its school of theology, and author most recently of Adopted for Life. I asked him about his stance on single adoptions, and he wouldn’t say what that might be. He just said the answer was in his new book, which he said he'd be glad to send to me. It arrived, and over the weekend, and I found one sentence addressing my concern: “Generally speaking, if you are single, pray for a marriage before you seek children.”

Well, of course. But what if God does not answer someone's prayers for marriage?

* * *

Christian groups report that there are 132 million orphans in this world. If so, every available resource needs to be freed up to care for these children — meaning singles as well as couples. There are 100 million single persons over 18 in the United States alone — one-third of the population. I think it’s safe to estimate that at least a third of all adults in a typical U.S. church are single. Why is it verboten to mobilize the unmarried so they too can nourish and bring up children?

I’m not picking just on the Southern Baptists. Several years ago, I was interviewing a professor at a Catholic college who also told me singles should not adopt. In fact, he said, children would be better off staying at orphanages than being adopted by a single mom or dad. I was speechless. I have seen the conditions of orphanages in Iraq, Kazakhstan, and India. What sane person would want a child to grow up in one of those? When I see Christian adoption activists ignore singles, I conclude, sadly, that despite their rhetoric, they are not fully committed to doing what it takes to make sure every child gets a home.
Amen, sister! Testify!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cultural Assimilation -- Is It a Good Thing?

Wo Ai Ni Mommy, shown on PBS this week, has definitely lit up the adoption blogosphere.  I'd seen it months ago and written my review then, so don't want to replow that old ground.  But it is interesting to see the same defenders of the adoptive mom, and the adoptive mom herself, jump into defensive posture to respond to folks saying the same things I did! (In fact, in response to one of the passionate defenses of the adoptive mom by a friend of hers in the comments to my review, I predicted this reaction: "Again, loyalty is a good quality. But you should probably get used to the fact that people are going to see your friend Donna differently from how you see her, based on the film. When it gets a wider viewing on PBS I'm sure there are going to be a lot of people who see the film exactly like you do. But there will also be a lot of people who see it like I do. And even more who see it like neither of us do.")

In one response at one discussion site, the adoptive mom says none of us who have critiqued the film have gotten the point of the film, which she says was: "The film was about how quickly children will adapt to their new homes, culture and environment!" Put aside for a moment whether ANY film has only one point when it's seen by more than one person, how about we talk about that one point, then!?  Here's the gist of what I said at the forum where Donna chimed in:

Donna and others tell us the "point" of the film is that children adapt and assimilate quickly. I don't think anyone who has adopted would doubt that, regardless of the age of the child at the time of adoption. It is amazing, really, for those of us who have experienced it.


But one of the negatives about adoption, in my opinion, is that there's an expectation that the child will adapt and not necessarily one that the family/parents will adapt. For example, the parenting style that works for bio children or a previously adopted child might not "work" for a newly adopted child. How does/should parenting style change/adapt to take into consideration that the child is different? Does the family's lifestlye change/adapt? Simple example: my oldest and I are go-go-go people, love to run around, hate to stay home; my youngest is a homebody and needs a slower pace. I could have asked her to adapt and run around all the time like we do, or I could have slowed us down and stayed home more. Which should I have done?

Second point is about cultural assimilation -- again, that seems to be presented in the movie as a good thing, with the only cautionary voice that of Dr. Amanda Baden. Why is cultural assimilation good? What does cultural assimilation actually mean -- can it be done while still maintaining a healthy racial/ethnic identity? How is culture and race/ethnicity distinct? What's the goal of cultural assimilation? Is this another adaptation required only of the adopted child, and not of the adoptive family? How can we help our children feel both "Chinese" and "American?" Is that even an appropriate goal?

So what do you think?  Why is it in adoption that only the adoptee has to assimilate and adapt?  How can/should families adapt in transcultural adoption? Does the film show positive adaptation and assimilation?  Is assimilation a good thing?  Are there ways to "assimilate" and still maintain connections to the original culture?  Is Dr. Amanda Baden correct in trying to shift the focus from culture to race?  Is it sufficient answer to say that right now, at age 11, Faith is happy and thriving in America? When, at the end of the film, Faith said she felt more American than Chinese, was that a happy ending?