Saturday, April 8, 2017

That Overwhelming Sense

Korea is my comfort. My reset.

Touching down in Seoul removes the tension of life in the United States. Back in the days before my first trip back, I feared what my senses might do. Would I gag? Would the food repulse my American sensibilities?

During my pregnancy with my first child, my sense of smell enhanced, I would often know what a cashier had had the night before for dinner. I also craved turkey, chicken nuggets and french fries. To this day, my son’s favorite meal is poultry and french fries. In the first four months of my pregnancy with my daughter, I ate only spaghetti and red sauce for lunch and dinner. Her favorite food? Yep, spaghetti.

My first trip, I was surprised at how the smells seemed so normal. But as I reflected, I realized that my time in the womb and my short first year in Korea gave me that overwhelming sense … of comfort.

So when I return, the foods give me strength. The people give me power to appreciate who I am … that I am not some “freak” or “weirdo.”

Just as the smells of Korean food waft about me and embrace me in a welcoming hug, the menacing language and hate of the US await my return. For now, I savor …

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Willow, The Water, The Wind

The water gurgles by me.
I   s—t—r—e—t—c—h …
But I am a young one,
A young one who knows not what lies ahead.
My buds are just beginning to emerge.

The water beckons, entices …
And often lulls me to sleep.
I love it.
I long for it.
Yet, it is unknown.

I do not know where the water might take me.
But I stretch ——
I want to be big!
I want to fly.
I wait.

A beautiful breeze kisses me,
Makes me float …
Float in the air.
I’m intoxicated
By its kisses.
It reaches through me and past me.

But just as I am falling in love …
It becomes violent.
A madness stirs in it.
It swings me around.

I hold tight to my mother.
It swings me around.
I am losing …
Losing my grip …
My GRIP on my family …

The wind wins.
And I f~l~o~a~t~~~
For a moment I am flying!
Flying high!

Yet as I begin to descend.
I see my love …
See that water lapping,
Inviting me.
I long to touch it.

So, I sway, sway, sway.
My small leaves catch the wind to direct myself.
And I fall into the gurgling gloriousness.
It’s delicious.

I float on its surface.
It carries me.
I am in love.
And then I’m stuck … hung.

Something …
Something grabs me …
Pulls me to the side.
The water rushes by as if to bid farewell.

I am hung.
Locked in.
I wait.
And I take root.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

This. Is. Us.

I have been reluctant to write about the new series on NBC, This Is Us.

Because … it slays a part of me every episode. All I could muster, were tweets through the season.

The last tweet was in reference to this tweet by Sterling Brown, the actor who plays Randall.

You see, throughout this show, Randall’s thread and mine tangle and separate and intertwine.

I wish for the moment when Randall holds William as he slips away.

My father died alone, collapsed outside the hospital where he had dedicated his entire life to not only the place, but all the people inside.

When the postman cried in the latest episode of This Is Us, I recalled those who shared their brief joyful moments with my father … they were strangers to me and these moments they had with my father were even stranger still.

As Randall and Beth discover things William has left behind, I realized I never really had those moments to quietly sift through my father’s memories. I did not get that kind of closure. The week after his death, I locked myself in his bathroom, touching his pajamas and smelling his cologne. I still visualize that last moment in his bathroom.

Now, I look forward to my trip to Seoul. I hope for the moment when I can embrace those who once cradled me in my first months. When Rebecca, Randall’s adoptive mother, points out that Randall has William’s tenderness, I ache longingly to know from where my traits come.

Ultimately, I know my day may never come. But from the legacy of my father’s love for others, I hope to bring the same joy to those around me … and spare them from the pain I feel every time I see someone resemble their family members.

I think I hide it well.

But damn! Can Randall bring it out in the privacy of my own home!

Jesse describes William as “Soft armrests for weary souls to lean on.”

And that is the best I can do.

Monday, March 6, 2017


In a few weeks, I return to the Republic of Korea.

The trip is a gift from my husband. When he announced that he wanted to give me the time and space to explore Korea on my own, my soul just about leapt from my body!

Since our return to the United States last February (2016), I have floated about, not fully engaged in my surroundings. It was lovely to be back in my house, but I still felt completely unsettled.

As time has passed, I have noticed my sense of loss but not sorrow. I was numb. Yet, my physical body began showing signs … the breakdown of age and heartache.

Returning to Korea is my reset button. I need this country more than it knows.

And yet, with the timer ticking down … my anxiety has risen. My voice is short. I overreact.

Living with me must be hard. I come home from work and just gaze into my cat’s eyes. That calms me. It is true what they say about pets … and then, I remember the trauma of my final days in Seoul and the loss of another sweet kitten boy.



This is not how I want to feel about returning, but my mind gives me no choice. Trauma and comfort swirl with every step towards a return.

I know all my anxiety will dispel just like my current time zone in a few days in Seoul. Old friends will help me feel more like my Korean self. The scents will welcome me home, and the kimchi will nourish me.

But I also anticipate the desperation I feel when I sit across all those lookalikes on the subway. I dream, hope and wish that they were relatives searching for me and would approach me with … “How we have wondered what became of you and if you were well!!!”

Maybe this time, someone will find me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Twinkie Chronicles: I did not thank God for Friday.

Friday, I treated the day as any other. Kids to class and a haircut, a little pottery trimming, lunch with my daughter and grocery shopping filled the hours. I was looking for solace from the week. The clay was forgiving and conceded.

As I drove home from my last errand, courage welled in my chest … my index finger pressed the FM button. On the public radio station, the words, the words, the words. Just words, but more …

“We came back to OUR country where we no longer need to be politically correct!” said a former missionary who had been in Central America since Obama’s election.

I hung my head and cried in my car. Had you asked me many years ago, before I formed my identity as a Korean adoptee with Puerto Rican and Tennessee influences, I might have said the same, “my country.”

Back then, I was proudly “Oriental” and “exotic” as I tried to live the “melting pot” persona I needed to survive. One evening my prideful tears confronted a South African man in my Rwandan living room as he attacked the “Americans” he had met, white, safari goers with big voices and lots of cash.

I defended my background and the America I thought mine. Through tears, I told him he was generalizing. I told him of my family back in Tennessee. He laughed at my naïveté and my silly passion for a country. “My country sucks, but if you criticized it, I would NOT be in tears,” he told me.

My mother always emphasized that we came from very modest beginnings. “Never forget we came from nothing.” Her words would drive me to work hard, get good grades and do all I could to counter her “I never went to college, nor did your grandmother; actually she never finished elementary school.”

This was the young girl who cried when her country was slighted. She reflected on the poor county in eastern Tennessee, in the Appalachian mountains. That was her country.

But I am no longer that girl. I am a woman who has grown to understand the pain of marginalization, not because of the America I once believed in but because INSIDE the United States of America, there are those who see me instantly as a threat to the status quo. As a single adult, I coped, but I as a mother, I can no longer just cope.

My week leading up to Friday was filled with discussions of others’ perceptions that we were “dog eaters because of the eyes.” If only those who throw words to hurt my children and me could really understand the privilege they hold where they can choose what they eat and look down on those who may have survived a war by eating what meat was available.

This country I called home has mistaken me and forsaken me.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Twinkie Chronicles: I gather family wherever I can.

Christmas Day is not the holiday I fondly remember. No more does my father’s Spanish-sprinkled “Ho, ho, ho! O’ Christmas Tree, O’ Christmas Treeeeeeee!” ring out over FaceTime. It’s quite silent here now.

This is the first Christmas in my home without my father’s infectious laugh and his many unnecessary packages.

My father was a work-a-holic. He loved his job as, first, an ER nurse, then as a nursing supervisor. His co-workers were the family with whom he spent his holidays. He always worked Christmas. I would beg him to take a holiday off and spend it with us when we were closer; he did so only once after retiring briefly. (He returned to work shortly thereafter.)

That last Christmas, he gave his co-workers all flashlights, his trademark gift. My sister and I, plus our kids and spouses, always received new flashlights. On New Year’s Day, we FaceTimed, and he told me how tired he was. I, again, asked him to take it easy and rest. He told me his time on the Earth was shortening. Daughter deafness overcame me. I told him not to talk about death and that he would be around a long time, just like his mother. That was the last conversation I had with him.

This summer, I decided to try working for national retail companies.

Since moving to the midwest seven years ago, I was finally able to secure a job. For seven years, this white liberal town was closed to me, a woman with a Latina name and professional roots in the South. My years of working as a college professor and a graphic designer meant nothing.

My curriculum vitae would be looked over and tossed aside. Few letters of rejection arrived. The occasional form email might come, and when I responded asking for frankness in what I lacked, I was met with the “we had so many qualified applicants.” I had two interviews in the seven years of my searching.

One year, I would receive an email asking me to set up an interview time with a local technical college. I had submitted my CV in response to a call in the Chronicle of Higher Learning. This was exciting! When I responded with my preferred times, an email quickly responded …

“… This is difficult.  I’ve never had to do something like this before.  I accidentally selected your name to send the interview for and it should have been someone else.  I selected from a long list and just grabbed the wrong e-mail address.  Unfortunately, you were not selected to be interviewed for this position.  We had an extremely competitive pool of over 50 very well qualified candidates.  Bringing this down to a small number to interview was very difficult.”

I would bounce back and cause a stir on a national level. The national community would look to me for my words as an adoptee, but once again there would be no reimbursement. My adoptee voice was useful … but not enough to cut a check.

After a soul-searching, extended time in Seoul, I went underground, still talking but now, wounded by my life in the United States … past, present and future. It was time to be compensated for my work.

This holiday season, I worked on Christmas Eve. It was busy and stress-filled. But through all this, I found a new family in my co-workers. As an adoptee, I have learned to find family where I can, but I am reminded of my father’s love for his work “family.” I recall that he, too, was far from his childhood memories in Puerto Rico.

My soul swims in sorrow on the holidays. There is a silence in my home without the voices from my childhood. There are no more cards or calls from Mama and Papito. They are no longer here.

I reflect on two people who gave all they had to leave me joyful memories. From here, I pass my father’s joy and spirit to those at work who have welcomed me with hugs and jests. They filled my days this year with the joy I have been seeking for quite some time now. It is nice to finally have found a home with them.

Happy Holidays.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Setting aside my whitish ways …

When I was a white, I talked like a white,
I thought like a white,
I reasoned like a white.

When I became Korean,
I set aside my whitish ways.

When I was a white,
I was “chosen.”

When I became Korean,
I was lost.

When I was a white,
I mourned my mother at her gravesite.

When I became Korean,
I mourned a mother in Korea.

When I was white,
I called myself, “Oriental.”

When I became Korean,
I called myself “Asian.”

When I was white,
I used the word, “Caucasian.”

When I became Korean,
I used the word, “white.”

When I was white,
I rejected the Asian men who loved me,
calling them affectionately, “brothers.”

When I became Korean,
I realized that the men I loved
were always white.

When I was white,
I dated white men.

When I was Korean,
I realized the implicit privilege
I had from my white partners.

When I was white,
I dated a white, Wisconsin-born GI.

When I was Korean,
I realized he never loved me.

When I was white,
I married a British man.

When I was Korean,
I realized he loved me.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

No Fragility Here

A powerful guest post by Melanie Chung-Sherman.
This is where I'm at tonight, and frankly, where I have been for the last several days. It has been somewhere between grief, denial and rage. 

I’ve stayed off social media, but after word of Adam Crasper's deportation (Though his deportation is separate from the events of last week — I want to be careful not to conflate.) and the countless stories of fear and heartache I have heard all week, my silence does nothing. 

If you want to unfriend, unfollow or dismiss, that is your choice. But understand I will not do that to you. I'm trying very hard to listen and learn. But unless we can sit in the pain of marginalized groups without reproach, guilt or defense … very little will change. 

To some extent, I understand the angle of the “safety pin” movement. Frankly, I want to see intentional action, not a stinkin’ pin. 

When someone comes at me with “Go back to your country, chink!” Your safety pin symbolism is useless. First, I can’t see your safety pin when I’m being assaulted verbally (God forbid physically.) because my brain goes into survival mode everytime I experience overt and covert racism. (And, BTW, that really did happen to my dear friend last week in Dallas while she was doing her job … going about her day). 

Secondly, I find that pin is more about you feeling better. 

I'm not looking for safety pins … lately, I’m looking over my shoulder in large, public places so that the renegade, white nationalist doesn’t feel too bold, especially when I'm alone with my boys. 

Where were these “safety pins” as the level of hate-filled rhetoric rose over the last 18+ months? Now this man has risen to power – so give me space and grace if I don't immediately fall into rank and file. Especially after some jackwagon spray-painted a swastika on a public venue with the words “Trump won” to remind me and other minority groups, where we stand. (And, yes, that happened last week, too.) Yeah, that’s painful and scary. 

This level of bigotry and intolerance has been legitimized, unleashed and emboldened over months of saturated fervor — and it is not normal. It is not okay. For those attempting to justify his actions — Do not tell me that you did not know this. Just don't. You did. Where was your safety pin? 

And, no, I get it, not every single person who cast their vote for him believed THAT part of his rhetoric.

But here’s the thing … diet racism and xenophobia is just as complicit. Fragility is exhausting. 

And, yes, I know other people of color who voted for him — my arguments and curiosity remains — because we all have unchecked bias. All of us — including me. Marginalized groups marginalize, too — and we are all accountable. If you did not have to worry about the potential impacts related to your physical safety, race, religion, sexual identity, gender or immigration status after this election, lean in first. 

The fact that I have to reassure my children that I will not be deported should not be a conversation following any U.S. election. As much as I would have liked to shield my kids from that toxicity, they hear it at school, church and on the playground. Where was your safety pin? 

Professionally, I sit across from adoptees, particularly transracial adoptees, who are genuinely scared because they have been already removed from their birth families – so the possibility is real for them. The fact that they have already experienced the trauma of separation and many have experienced the stress of direct racism — this is a real issue for them. Wearing a safety pin does nothing to quell body memory, nor does dismissing their fears. 

Consider what your safety pin will be.

Will you contact your state legislatures to ensure citizenship for all adoptees, under the Adoptee Citizenship Act, particularly minority adoptees? ACLU? Trevor project? Foster care organizations helping youth transition out? 

Will you sit across the table from the disenfranchised and listen without judgment? Will you extend your talents outside your bubble? Will you denounce rehoming? Will you speak out against intolerance beyond social media — speak truth in love to your own family, friends and circles? Will you educate yourself on the historical context of marginalization? Will you learn about what is a vetted journalism/research article source? 

Let's get to work together. There’s a lot to do.

Melanie Chung-Sherman, LCSW-S, LCPAA, CTS is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in adoption-focused issues. She has worked in child welfare since 1999. A Korean adoptee, she is a mom to two kids, married, and lives in Dallas, Texas.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

This is what my silence wrought.

Thirty-four years ago, I was called a swamp rat.

Thirty-four years ago, I was told to get back on the boat.

Thirty-four years ago, my church harbored racists who spoke these words.

And I was silent. I protected my white family from the ugliness.

Twenty-nine years ago, I lay half dressed on a bed.

Twenty-nine years ago, I felt dirty and used.

Twenty-nine years ago, the frat house I thought was a haven held sexual predators.

And I was silent. I protected the white men who I thought loved me like a little sis.

Four years ago, a studio mate told an inappropriate joke.

Four years ago, a studio mate slapped my butt in the empty studio.

Four years ago, the space that I saw as my solace became tainted.

And I was silent. I protected a white man I had thought was a friend.

Two years ago, at a gala, a man sat next to me and my husband.

Two years ago, this white man reached over and touched my cheek with his palm.

Two years ago, a nice evening turned sour.

And we were silent. We decided this white donor was too important to humiliate.

Four months ago, my son walked the two blocks from the bus stop to our home.

Four months ago, my son was stopped in his neighborhood.

Four months ago, a white man walking his dog asked my son what he was doing here.

And he was silent. He walked with his head down and picked up the pace.

Every school day, my son faces bullying.

Every school day, my son hears words like “rice fag.”

Every school day, my son dreads facing these white oppressors alone.

And he is silent. 

Now, I am no longer silent. We tried to be good, kind, quiet … the model minority.

We have watched our Black brothers and sisters die in front of our eyes, and we have walked beside them in protest. I hoped a white woman would save us, but white supremacy is stronger than we realized. The hold that racism has on the United States has taken my church, my white adoptive family and the public places we once thought safe.

So for now, we huddle at home. I hold my children close as they call America the land of Jim Crow and The Purge. What else can we do?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Hate Ain’t Great

The word wall in my gray matter has frozen with its little rainbow ball spinning. Writing has always been natural for me … like breathing.

Oh my soul! It is pale blue from suffocation. There lays one lung unable to accommodate air, while the other … unable to exhale. We know what happens when the brain is left without oxygen. Parts of it die.

I cannot make sense of my life as a Korean, as a transracial adoptee, as an …

Do. Not. Say. That Word.

Save us all from that word.

… American!

Navigating through a multi-layered identity as a transracial adoptee is like the Los Angeles commute. All roads lead to absolute standstill. The standstill was tolerable if there was a good audiobook, but those days are over. Ignoring the systemic problem only sustained the status quo.

In my earlier straightforward life, I was that girl who loved America. It had saved me. I played the game well … good student … good wife … good parent. The American dream was mine … until it wasn’t.

What I hid, I regret. Alone without my white privilege, without my adoptive family, without my white husband, I was reminded that I was owned by those who saw me as an object … men who sexually assaulted me before my marriage, men who smacked my ass when my husband was not around, men who touched my face when my husband was seated next to me, and then, the agencies and people who lied to me.

Korea allowed me to face the truths and gave me the ability to swim the sea of like selves. It was euphoric, until I spoke. While Korea felt like it should be mine, it just wasn’t quite mine.

I returned to a place I once called “home,” to find a man who embodied hate, rustling the leaves to reveal the dog shit underneath. The shit is teaming with parasites that invade my home from the bottom of my shoe. They are looking to find a way into my body, and here, these parasites will infect me and eventually kill me.

The America I left has devolved into a hellish, toxic place.

In this place, my son can be asked why he is walking in his own neighborhood.

In this place, a young man can be beaten to death because he is Saudi Arabian.

In this place, a man can rape an unconscious woman and serve little time because the rapist has been traumatized.

In this place, a presidential candidate can talk about grabbing “pussy” as locker room talk and still garner a substantial percentage of the electorate.

In this place, a young transracial adoptee can be assaulted in an Idaho locker room.

This is not America, and may it never see hate as great again.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Fragility of Return


That word conjures so many emotions. Some feel the warmth of a family quilt, smell homemade baked goods or hear the consoling purr of a kitten.

Since returning to my home in Wisconsin after our life in Seoul, I feel more lost. Our mid-century modern house is my home. It is filled with the things that remind me of who I am.

All the art by friends and potters surrounds me. I have foster kittens demanding my care. I even installed two Korean conveniences … the water cooler and a bidet.

But I still feel that void. I try to shake it. Inside my head, I repeat “THIS is your home; YOU belong here.”

Yet, as I begin to feel more at ease, the gun violence, Brock Turner, Pulse Nightclub, Black men dying, Black women assaulted by police … and Donald Trump flood my life. I cannot hide from these injustices, nor the cold glare of a man in the red “Make America Great Again” cap. I fight them as best I can. Then, I retreat. I stay at home, out of sight.

When I do venture out, the usual question by those who haven’t seen me in a while … “How was Korea?!” The questioner is excited. Yes, I love my country … but which one? How do I respond? The best I can do? Take all the emotions you have ever experienced in your entire life … and roll them into five months.

My quiet longing and safe life in Seoul beckons. Ambivalence.

Winter in Wisconsin was kind. A newborn niece was born in April. There is joy.

I can leave you with this recent performance. Only a few months after returning, I was given the opportunity to perform a blog post I never intended to read aloud. Luckily, the crew of Listen to Your Mother recognized the importance of my words. They encouraged and supported me. Now, I give you me as a blubbering mess, but perfectly authentic.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Happy Relinquishment!

Shocking, right? How could I say such a thing to anyone?

Well, the words, “Happy Birthday!” feel that way to me. That joyous day when we all celebrate our entry into the world … that day eludes me.

My entry into the world? Forty-eight years ago today, the day my baby self appeared at a police station and was immediately taken to the adoption agency …

Each “Happy Birthday!” or the simple question on a form that asks “Birthdate?” slaps me into my reality. I am severed from knowing my past before my six-month-old founding.

Currently, in Indiana, a non-profit has installed a baby box. I understand the good intentions, but sometimes, good intentions disregard the lives of those involved, those little ones without a voice … the little me 48 years ago.

In recent press coverage, a woman stands next to the Indiana box, smiling broadly. Her smile seems to mock me. I realize that is not her intention. But just a little thought … research … questioning of Chinese adoptees or other Korean adoptees who were “abandoned” is all I ask. Perhaps, if she understood the impact of the box, she would have thought differently about placing herself in the picture.

If the baby box appears in your feed, please take a moment and comment with a link to this post.

This box is a violation of the baby’s human rights. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, November 1989, article 8, states the following:
  1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference. 
  2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.
Let’s work for all children to be able to enjoy that date in their life where they feel special … their birthday. Everyone deserves to have a birth story and a record of a birthdate. Let’s not rob future generations of this basic human right.

Originally published on the Lost Daughters site.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Death, the Bookmark

My life is marked by death.
Stickies on the worn pages.
Each a misaligned tab to start a chapter
Of a life filled with loss.

August 16, 1977, I watch Hogan’s Heros.
My mother in the kitchen cooking Chicken A La González.
The black ticker tape … The King is Dead.
My mother runs and locks herself in the bathroom.
Sobs seep from underneath the door.

February 24, 1987, I wake to a phone call.
“She had been sick but seemed better … ”
And I sob, why didn’t you tell me she was sick?!
I would have been there for her!!!
The first significant death of my little life.

February 2, 2001, I hold my infant son, as the phone rings …
“She died in her sleep. She did not suffer.”
The only Mom I knew was gone.
All mothers are erased …

October 30, 2010, her salsa is silenced.
The view of the casket, I handle.
They close the casket, and I collapse as
My sobs echo throughout the small parlor.
Todos las abuelitas se desvanecen …

January 3, 2015, a late night call …
“He fell outside the hospital, on his way to work.”
Ever the humanitarian, the lover of others.
His life dedicated to alleviating their suffering,
Comforting families, healing with laughter and love.
But now, I am enraged; he was mine, not theirs.
Daddy, Papito, Papí.

January 2, 2016, the decision to stop the pain.
He was my furry, purry comforter in Korea.
He warmed my chest when the weight of loss
Suffocated me. He was bright and loving.
He never asked for anything, but he wanted me …

As they take him from my arms,
His weak body uses the last reserves
To scream for me with pleading little eyes.
They shut the door.

I ride an hour to the demilitarized zone.
They ask if I am Christian or Buddhist.
The service with only one mourner in a closet-like room,
Incense burning and English Christian music pipes in.
His stiff, small body there for me to pet one last time.

The door opens the cart is rolled to a window.
I am placed on the other side of the glass …
For one … last … look
At this sweet body.
The furnace door is shut.
The flames dance above the furnace in bright colors.

In thirty brief moments, I stand again at the window.
The solemn Korean men use gloves to pick up …
His tiny bones. Fragile and light.
Lines of white that once held flesh and fur.
The whirr of the blade, and I am sent off on the bus.

His lovely ashes folded meticulously in hanji paper
Placed in a celadon urn, and
Wrapped carefully in a white handkerchief.
My body is numb on the two-hour journey back.
No more loss, please. 

I cannot keep comforting myself with
Legacies of lives well-lived.
I feel alone, as lives must continue.
School, a birth, work …
We continue. I hope to strengthen with time.

No more loss, please … 
please … please …

A sweet baby face. The joy is returning.
A text … “Are you sad?”
A second text … “Prince.”
My heart jumps to my throat.
I choke.

Do not tell me he was “just a singer,”
“A celebrity,” “a person in the public eye.”
“How silly to cry over someone you do not personally know.”
Shut the fuck up.
You know nothing of his role in my life.

He gave me pride to be me,
While you told me I was “almost normal.”
His songs taught me to love my body,
Not loathe my small frame, my “exotic” hair and eyes.
His music … intravenous strength and sensuality.

His words: “You have to live a life to understand it.”
No one around me lived my life in the 1980s.
But Prince Rogers Nelson empathized.
His lyrics lay my low self esteem on a bed of acceptance,
Just what a young woman needed.

Now, as the door shuts behind me,
I can sob as my mother did just shy of 40 years ago.
Her King died and left her to a life of existing for her family.
My Prince has died and left me to exist, but as a stronger woman.
His life’s work … leaving doors wide open
For us to run outside and dance in the purple rain.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Korea: I’m shattered.

Dated January 23, 2016, on flight KE037 …

I am fragments.
The First maternal fragment,
Is my flesh and blood —
A round ass, dark hair —
Slant eyes.

I imagine her now as an “Ajumma”
Peeling chestnuts for sale in the streets
Of Cheongnyangni in Seoul.

The Second recorded my firsts.
Steps, words and that crucial first birthday.
She was a photography professor’s wife.
I was attached to her, they said.
But that is all I’m allowed to know.

The Third called me hers.
She was love wrapped
In the sweet smell of perfume.
She believed I would grow
To bear a red-headed child —
With the auburn curls of her youth.

She took insults like
“Big Fat Hippopotamus”
As she rescued me
From my third grade racist tormentors.

She would lay a dark chocolate almond bar
On my pillow in anticipation
Of her college girl’s return.

When it came my time to be mother,
I realized my flaws.
I felt my first’s tiny hand trace mine
Through my hot, stretched belly bump.

I shut my eyes,
Imagining my small hand doing the same
In Post Korean War Seoul.

And here I realized the significance of my First
Somewhat forgotten
Pushed to the recesses of my mind —
Mom, Omma.

Just as the Third watched this new
“Oriental” baby reach a stage she knew …
She was gone.

I was left to ponder.
Wonder again what it was like to be mother,
Without the guidance of another.

In my son’s development,
I noticed the crucial stages left to my imagination.
Solids at six months —
A time when my breastmilk could no longer
Keep up with a growing child’s insatiable appetite.

I have an insatiable appetite.
Did I need too much?
I was left at six months …
Somewhere …
A police station?
Yes, of course. Like all the others.

Let the records show —
But not too much.
They cannot.
They are hidden, trashed,
lost in the shame of a country that sent me away.

That shame is mine.
I rejected Korea for so long.
My son’s questions prompting more.
Our five-month stay was a gift.
A hope to show them their country.

But I realize it is no longer mine,
And they cannot claim it.
We are 미국 … American.

What mother takes her children
To a place she says they belong,
While she uses silence to blend in?

In crowds, they panic when they cannot find her.
She is not yellow in a sea of white like home.
What wrong is she trying to right?
What mother fragments her children?
I do.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Korea: My Village

Today, my Seoul mates celebrated the Lunar New Year together in the house that is KoRoot, a home to adult Korean adoptees from around the world. Having no extended Korean family to visit, I stay snug in my Wisconsin home as I think of my fondest memories from this last year of the sheep.

People flood my mind now when I think of our time in Korea. From our home station of Sinjeong, Exit 1, to our two-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor of a business building, we miss the produce stand outside the exit with the man who shouted, “Hello! How are you!” even though he never really wanted an English response so we let a smile suffice. (He had studied in southern California back in the day.)

From there, we passed our local grocery. Outside, the man who wears the headpiece to announce the sales would also smile. For the first month, he said, “Annyeonghaseyo.” But soon, my son noticed when the man switched to “Annyeong,” the informal “hello.” We were in.

Many of our anxieties of not fitting in were tempered with these subtle social nuances. 

Today, this Seollal celebration in Korea is filled with my favorite dish … tteok guk, a rice cake soup. 

This one in particular was made by a woman who runs a small restaurant, Mananim, on the outskirts of the Hanok Village (Anguk Station, Exit 1, take a right and walk down the alley-like road). 

My first time there, our host friends ask that I go ahead of the group, to see if she would speak Korean to me. Of course, she did. But when she realized I spoke English, she switched effortlessly into a kind, gentle voice. Other Koreans were met with her usual commands.

She keeps a tight ship as the only employee of this restaurant, and I loved her spunk as she told us how to help ourselves to water and how to order (tiny sheets of scrap paper and a pen to write your own order).

Once the order was in, her hands got messy as she cooked each dish to perfection. She introduced the dishes filled with organic ingredients and beautifully presented Korean herbs. She carefully used chopsticks to unfold the leaves of a native Korean pickled herb for my husband’s pork belly. 

As the dinner progressed, I told her my soul felt fulfilled. I felt at home and embraced by the warmth and comfort of my tteok guk. Its flavors of egg, chicken and rice cake hugged my tongue just before filling my belly. There was a knowing, but not knowing comfort in that bowl. I finally felt comfortable in telling her that I was an adoptee … a forgotten child of Korea. 

She hugged me and said, “I knew that.” I snapped a selfie just as we left. But I would return to her restaurant several times as a lost daughter of the tteok guk, and she would welcome me with a warm embrace.

Another poignant meeting would happen at Icheon in my pilgrimage to the Ceramics Village. Having seen the work of so many Icheon masters, I wanted to visit and pay homage to those who carried on the traditions of Korean pottery. 

One artist in particular, Jeon, Seong-Keun, had fascinated me. His work of carving porcelain made me feel a part of Korean ceramic culture. I wanted to meet him.

As I looked around the showroom, there was awe and inspiration. A young man stood minding the shop. I finally had the courage to ask him if the artist was around. I watched as his face dropped. Sadly, he introduced himself as So Bin or Alfred, the son of the recently passed Seong-Keun. I felt horrible. I shared with him that I knew the pain of loss as my father had passed the same year, and we shared a moment of tearful reflection.

This opened up so much conversation. He had studied in New York when his father was living, but now, he was back to help his mother with his late father’s studio. His brother, So Hyeon was living in Seoul. As I left, he gave me two cups from his late father’s collection, something I will treasure for years to come from that one moment of shared loss.

Each person in Korea that reached out to me, embraced me and connected to me in someway became a part of my village. As I reflect on the new year, this monkey one, I know my time in Seoul will not be my last. The leaving was bittersweet. While I enjoy the comfort of my home in Wisconsin, I miss that familial feeling of belonging to a village that is mine, despite what any paperwork will say.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Twinkie Chronicles: The China Doll has Children.

“Ain’t she just the cutest ‘China doll’! You’ns must be mighty proud of her.”

My mother’s face would mangle and turn blood red, no matter who said it. “She’s my daughter, and she’s Korean, not Chinese.”

This was the dialogue when we would return to my mother’s hometown in the 1970s. She actually never wanted to return to that small town but wanted a life in a larger community. My parents had lived in Yokohama, Japan, for three years, and my mother longed to have those days back.

Yet, in 1976, my father, thinking it would be nice for his wife to have her mother nearby, pursued a job in my mother’s hometown. And thusly, my life progressed there, amidst the racism and ignorance of the small-town mentality. It pains me to even type this, as I still have relatives there who I love dearly and would do anything to protect. Their love for me is unconditional, and here, I leave it at that.

After escaping my hometown, I moved to the city that started my parents’ romance … Knoxville. It was bigger and brighter; there was more dialogue, and I relished the “changes” I hoped to see for my home state during the 1992 election.

Much of that optimism fell as I returned pregnant in the late 1990s. My husband and I stayed with a friend that holiday season in Knoxville. During our dinner, my friend’s husband said something that froze me to the core … “You guys will make a beautiful baby. Hybrids are attractive and robust genetically.”

We were shocked. Our marriage and our family planning was never an experiment in procreation. If I had had the words then, WHAT. THE. FUCK.

Our planning did include communities with larger populations of people of color. We wanted our children to not feel the isolation I had as a child. But even the best intentions never prepare you for the reality of racism and race comparisons.

Now that my children are growing taller than me, I find myself gushing over all infants and toddlers. I long for those days. My daughter, the youngest, has a difficult time watching this crazy behavior where I smile at strangers’ children and hold and then sniff our friends’ infants.

Since coming to Korea, her disgust of babies has changed to fear. My daughter now senses my complete connection to the little ones here. Where I see little versions of what I could have been, my daughter sees versions of what she thinks I want.

Difficult to tease out with her, she and I only talk briefly. She talks mostly to her father about her fear that I will remain in Korea and marry a Korean man to have Korean children. She does not see the complexities. All I can do is reassure her.

The worst struggles come when other Korean adoptees gush over her and her brother. They compliment them on how beautiful and handsome they are. And one well-meaning person once said, “I guess I would have to marry a white man to get beautiful children like that.”

Though the person did not realize my daughter was listening (she and her brother tend to keep ear buds in and eyes on screen) her ears were burning. She wanted reassurance that my motives were pure. She wanted reassurance that I loved her father.

I assured her, but I also elaborated on why a Korean adoptee looks at her with such longing.
“Before you and your brother, I had no other person that shared my appearance, my mannerisms and my genetics. Korean adoptees who have yet to have children of their own are curious. They long to see themselves reflected in another human being. That does not excuse the comment or how it makes you feel. Your father and I love one another, and we love you and your brother. We are a family.”

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fighting Affluenza

The last few days, my husband’s coworkers shared their love of the great Korean outdoors and hosted our family in the mountains of Muju, South Korea. Outfitted with skis and passes, our kids enjoyed the slopes of a park that reminded me of my childhood home in the Appalachian mountains. The ski scene was very reminiscent of the ski culture in the United States.

The scene outside our room window.

Large groups of school kids, families and others flocked to the mountains, just as tourists did in my hometown at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.

In those days, my grandmother cleaned at the local motel. The work was hard and paid little. Even though she is now gone, I always remember her worn hands whenever I stay at a hotel or motel. The women and men who clean rooms have the most thankless jobs.

They are invisible elves who come and clean the very things we hate to do in our own homes … the toilets, the bath drain, the sinks, the dishes and the bed linens.

Packing up today, our teenager decided he would not be doing the dishes before we left because he believed it was housekeeping’s job. Earlier, I had bumped into a young man that reminded me of my son … earphones in and listening to his music. As I stepped on the elevator, he smiled and skipped out the elevator and down the stairs. At first, I thought he was another young resort resident kid on a trip, most likely playing pranks on his fellow fieldtrippers. But later, I saw him pushing the cart of dirty linens down the hallway.

Flashing back to my own experiences of seeing my grandmother clean after really filthy folks, I lost my temper and told my teen that he needed to clean the dishes and help the housekeeping staff have a nice Christmas eve, one where the work would be less so that they could enjoy more time with their families. I did what I resent adoptive parents telling me. I told him he should be grateful that he could have such a vacation and not have to work as the young housekeeper did.

Later, I regretted my manner in engaging my son. But as we did our final sweep of the room before checkout, my teen offered his money to leave behind in the room.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Dandelion Seed

Since moving to Korea, I have looked into the eyes of mothers, young ones and old ones. Of course, I am more thorough in my scanning as I look into the eyes of older mothers. The tired women who board the train to somewhere.

Several activities have brought me face to face with birthmothers. The recent National Assembly forum introduced me to the birth family group, Dandelion.

Somehow, my mind’s eye always knew this connection to the dandelion. I have been fascinated by this flower for some time. How the seeds spread and make colonies elsewhere away from the mother plant.

But now, I know more about the shame left with the mothers of Korea and the longing mothers and fathers have for their dispersed seeds. They know so little about how those seeds fared.

One mother who has touched me deeply is Ruth. Her name and her story give me hope that somewhere my mother longs for me. Ruth holds photographs of her son, Jun, Min Kee, a Holt baby like me. From my number #5596 in 1968 to his K90-848, she received photographs from his adoptive mother, Marianne, for a few years through the agency.

The photographs dried up years ago, but she longs to know the man he has become. He would be twenty-five. She and I wonder where his seed landed and if he wonders about this country where the initial roots that supported him in the early days took hold.

Just as I am thwarted by Holt from knowing what little documentation they have on my early days, Ruth is thwarted from contacting her son. For now, I long to be her daughter, but the language barrier keeps us from truly communicating.

If you have information on Jun, Min Kee, please private message me. We have photographs that I feel I cannot share here, but in private, I can. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Dear Non-Adoptee …

Dearest Non-Adoptee,

Remember the innocence of childhood? I suspect you asked your mother, as my own children do, about that day you entered the world. It’s magical to think of that first breath, the wonder of a brand-spanking new brain just starting to spark.

If you are a firstborn, I suspect your parents recorded the dates of your first smile, your first tooth, that first crawl across the floor and then the monumental wobbly first step. All those things make you a living person who will grow up and later share these special moments with your own children.

I ask that you now understand me. Those moments which I preciously hold for my children are the same moments I want to hold for myself. Holding and staring at the few photographs I have of myself as a baby have sustained me for 48 years, but now, I know there are other notes taken by those who knew me during these times. Surrogates of a mother hold those memories of my life before I was someone’s “firstborn.”

One of my childhood memories that my adoptive mother shared with me was her sadness in seeing me walking in my first birthday photograph, a photograph sent to her by my foster mother via Holt Korea. She wanted that moment to hold for me and pass down to me. The loss of that milestone brought her great sadness and brings me sorrow to this day.

Imagine if someone, a stranger, held these precious memories … photographs, records of that first year, the developmental landmarks.

Saturdays are my days in Seoul to relax with fellow adoptees or spend much needed time with my little family of four. But this Saturday, I spent it with not only adoptees who were silent, but with non-adoptees who drove the conversation.

The one-sided conversation was sterile, matter of fact and rehearsed. The same words were repeated … “KAS is not allowed,” “no systematic guidelines,” “the law does not allow” …

Such surgical words applied to my life experience. Asking for my adoption file, all portions of my file is my plea to be that child of wonder looking for the information that makes me feel part of the human race.

KAS, Korean Adoption Services, is the governmental agency that acts as a liaison between the adoption agencies and the adoptees in post adoption services; adoptees are asked to submit requests for information through KAS. The KAS social worker handling my case fielded questions, but it seemed she lacked the understanding of why adoptees feel passionate about holding those files.

It is no fault of hers or yours that she and you were not adopted. How can you know what adoptees want or need?

And yet, our lives are now revealed as more nuanced than the agency script of a “better life.”

My plea to you is to be an ally. Understand that the things you cherish about your first years are the exact things we seek for ourselves and our children.

In humble sincerity,

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Love is enough, until it’s gone.

Blocked from knowing my history, a product of the Baby Box theory, I only remember the love of one family. It wasn’t the choice of my adoptive family (or what I will refer to as “my family” in this post) to keep me from my first family. The members of my family believed for all legal purposes that I was an orphan that became their daughter and sister.

I have very fond memories of my family. As I sit in Seoul, peeling chestnuts and eating them raw, I remember the chestnut orchard of my grandfather. I would hang and swing from the branches of those mighty trees in the fall weather of East Tennessee. It was idyllic and comforting. I loved breaking apart the prickly pods to reveal the raw meat of a nut no one else loved as I did …

In Seoul, I bought a bag of corn chips, much like the Bugles my grandmother bought for me from the vending machine where she cleaned rooms at the local hotel. My family’s life was simple. We lived simply, just as I imagine my first family did. It seems fitting that I would become the daughter of a set of parents who grew up poor as well.

The days of reminiscing with my parents are gone. My mother passed just as I was becoming the mom she had taught me to be. For years, I struggled with the loss of her.

My father and sister stood with me when my mom died. Their grief was mine and mine, theirs. We spoke among ourselves about her impact on our lives. I shared with them the pains of feeling alone in my parenting.

My younger sister would soon have a little one of her own. Feeling comfortable with infants (after having my two), I cherished the time spent with her as she struggled to wrestle motherhood to the ground. One day, she said, “You have done the very thing that would have made Mom so very proud.” That was a golden moment in my life. I was “Mom.”

My father’s family became the strength in the lives of my children as they grew up only really knowing my father and not my mother. We made many trips to Puerto Rico to connect. They feel they are Puerto Rican.

But our time with my father was also fleeting. His death this last January was a blow we never imagined at the time. He had been my link to Korea … his time there, his love for the country and his honest interest in my original family search. He was my supporter when the world’s eyes saw me as a disloyal adoptee.

In the following months, I would learn more about my father’s time in Korea and his short love affair that resulted in a son … a man only two years older than me and the physical embodiment of the identity I had spent my entire life building.

What I wish adoptive parents would consider is that once they pass on, the adoptee is truly alone. We are left with a family that is only ours by association. In my case, my extended family works to stay connected, but deep down, I feel separate. My children and I long for a connection to the one man who embodies my father and my biological Korean side.

My writing is not for my late parents. My writing addresses me as a person, a mother, an adoptee, my parents’ daughter, my original family’s lost daughter and as the foster child to a foster mother I can only see in faded pictures.

This post was originally published on the Lost Daughters blog for National Adoption Month.