Monday, November 14, 2011

Tomorrow marks the day …

Tomorrow is my birthday … or rather the day that the Korean government gave me as a birthday. On my first birthday, one of the most important of a young Korean baby’s life, I spent it with my foster parents. They were college professors, according to my mother. The man took my photograph to commemorate the day.


According to my Korean friend, the baby is presented with four things: a pencil, a string, chopsticks and money. Which item the child chooses determines her future. A pencil indicates a scholar, the string indicates a long life, the chopsticks insure that the child never will go hungry, and the money indicates a child who will prosper. I have no idea what I chose that day, but I’m still waiting to find out!

Many birthdays followed.  Here you see my first birthday celebrated with my parents in Puerto Rico; I was two.


My next birthday, my third, was spent with my mother’s family in Tennessee. My father was stationed in Vietnam. I recall sending him a taping where I just said, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” My grandmother and my mother made it the most special of days despite my father’s absence.


Each year, my mother worked very hard to make November 15th the most memorable of all. She succeeded. This was one where she made my wishes come true with a cake she fashioned with dancing ballerinas around it.


As I turned six, my mother had been hospitalized for some time. She was carrying my little sister, a pregnancy that the doctors had told her might not make it to term. My father made the best of it and bought me a cake. He also fashioned a sign on posterboard for me. I remember visiting my mother in the hospital, she quickly gave me a wrapped present in the cafeteria. As I left, I remember looking longingly up at her hospital room window from the pavement below. She would tell me later that she cried that evening as she watched my little purple coat wave and walk away.


The next year was a big one. We had just moved to Lawton, Oklahoma. I had made a few friends, but it really was a party for our family. My mother spent late nights cutting the letters for the signage out of pieces of construction paper.


I became older, and birthdays passed. There was my 8th pictured here.


And then … I hit nine. We had once again moved. This time we moved to Tennessee, my mother’s birthplace.


This was a monumental birthday for me, because I started wondering more about myself and my background. Having been a military brat until this point, I had been surrounded by diversity. In Tennessee, it was difficult being a lone Asian in a small, rural Appalachian town. I looked more and more at the paperwork my parents had received, and I realized that I was different in another way. The day I had always celebrated as my birthday, may not have been my birthday after all.

When I had been turned into the police station, I had no papers with me. I was taken to a doctor, where my approximate age was determined. Then, the government gave me a birth date, the middle of November, as an estimated birthday.

So, every year, I wonder if November 15th is in fact my birthday, or if I could have been born on the same day as my sister, the 20th, or on the 11th, or the 17th or so on.

I know nothing about the circumstances of my birth. This never entered my mind until I had given birth to my children. Now, I do wonder at times if my birth was easy for my birth mother, if I was born early in the morning after a long night of labor, or born late in the day after many hours of daylight labor. Was I her first child? Or was I a subsequent one whose labor lasted only a short time?

While I am content with my life now, I still have unanswered questions. But I know that the answers make little difference in the person I am today.

The rich birthday celebrations that I have had were celebrations of not only my birth, but celebrations of my place in a loving family.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Another Adoptee

The news of Steve Jobs’ death made me feel that it was just the extra punch in the stomach of a very bad day. But then, I watched his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech.

I discovered so many wonderful things about the man I had admired since my graduate days in 1990 and my first introduction to all things Mac.  I already knew he was a man who loved typography and design just as I did. But what I didn’t know was that he was adopted. He was loved just like I had been by two wonderful people who set aside the biology and went with their hearts.

In his speech, it was as though he were speaking directly to me and my day. Some of the words he told me, “Trust in the future … Follow your heart even when it leads you off the beaten path … Start over with the lightness of being a beginner again … Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered in my life … Death is a destination we all share. Death is the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent.”

My mother’s death changed my life, and now, his has also changed my life. Tomorrow will be a new day of discovery, invention and change.

As he said, “Love what you do. Keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Debbie Downer, Mother Needed

It was a rough day in the world of motherhood.

My husband was yet again out of town and had been for a while.  The girl woke with an earache.  The boy was dealing with a middle school transition.  The house decided that it needed more repairs and updates. I felt over extended.

As with many families in this country, we are far away from any support system.  I rely on a few friends, but I could really use family.  At the end my of frustrations, I decided to veg out, watch a little TV.  “Ah,” I thought, “Glee.”  This clip is from a recent episode where Rachel sees her birth mother again. The birth mother is trying to make things right for Rachel and for her newly adopted child.  Let’s just say, it was not what I was expecting.



More and more media are incorporating the adoptive mother and father.  The recent Kung Fu Panda movie also highlighted adoption with the main character not knowing his roots.  His crane father shows emotions my mother had.

I remember an instance that I wish I could take back.  I was a preteen and angry.  I wrote my mother a letter that said, “I wish you had never adopted me.” The hurt she felt cannot be erased.  That was surely a rough day in motherhood, one I cannot fully understand.

Today, I was wishing for my mother, not the one who gave birth to me, but my real one.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Can I adopt a 22-year-old?

The following video was sent to me by a friend almost a month ago. My life lately has been a whirlwind. So, I kept it tucked in my unread mail. Tonight, as I kept feeling badly for myself, I was humbled by this.


Nineteen years ago, when this young man was sold to the orphanage, I was only two years older than he is now. I was self-absorbed. Hanging out in clubs, finishing up a master’s half-heartedly and working in a job that paid my rent, I thought I had it rough. This young man, his life and his determination remind me to be thankful.

Sung-Bong, you deserved so much more. When you were running away from the orphanage, I had met the man of my dreams. We would talk late at night about adopting a young Korean to pass on the fortune I had had. I’m so sorry our paths never crossed, and my intentions were never fulfilled.

If I could adopt you now, I would.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A snowy reunion

We were hit … hard. Snow drifts and crazy temps. In Wisconsin, that rarely constitutes a snow day. But today was our day.

I personally was very thankful for the extra time spent with my kids today. We were able to start the day with the four of us in our queen bed together. We all gazed at the white wonder outside. Once the moment was over, it was time for friends. Phone calls and arrangements. All in our house to keep the activity around.

Today was not only groundhog’s day or a snow day, it was the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. The snow reminded me of the story of the little match girl. As a young girl my mother played this tragic figure in a play. She told me she was cast because of her red curls.

The Little Match Girl is one of my daughter’s favorite story books. It was also owned by my mother. In it, a young girl must sell her matches on the street as a snow storm brews. She lights one, then another to keep warm. Eventually, she freezes to death but is taken up to be with her deceased and beloved grandmother.

My girl has never known her grandmother, and I think she feels a connection through this book. She feels the tragedy of never having known her grandmother, but also wishes for that opportunity to see her in another lifetime.

The snow did not bring death today like it does in the story. Instead, it brought back lovely memories of snow days in Tennessee. My mother baking. Her inventive sleds of black trash bags and cardboard boxes. The photos she took of my sister and I dressed in multiple layers and sporting red cheeks and smiles.

For the last month, I had dreaded today. And yet, today was a day of happiness, filled with the joy of being a mother, my mother.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Eerie echos

Sweaty palms, butterflies. It’s 1984. I am waiting for Mr. Anders, our biology teacher, to call out the first name. He always returned tests in the order of best grade to worst. I want so badly to be the first name. He says that the highest grade was a ninety-nine and a half. And then he says it … my name!

Elation is quickly replaced by personal disappointment at the small mistake I made that took that half point away. I’d studied. I took mental pictures of all the diagrams and my notes, but I missed that minute nuance.

Today, I read an article about Chinese mothers. Amy Chua has written a book about the parenting contrast between Eastern parents and Western parents. I find it all quite intriguing and am thankful for my Western upbringing.

But the most troubling part for me was identifying with the children and knowing the need to excel no matter what.  The need to have that perfect 100. I had that need, and it was not prompted by my Western parents. They were always full of praise.

Is the drive innate? My parents did not push me. But I pushed myself and see elements of it in my parenting of my children. Am I the Asian mother described by Chua?

I have wanted my children to take piano, but mainly because I was never afforded the opportunity. I allowed my son to quit at 7. My daughter now struggles, but I am holding steadfast in having her continue. I have watched silently as my son chose the violin for his strings class (then silently felt a victory).

Additionally, I have overreacted at lesser grades and bought workbooks for my children or designed homework when they didn’t have any. I want them to want what I so badly wanted at their age.

Now, I’m struggling. Is what I want bad for my children? Am I becoming the Asian mother? Is there a balance that meshes the best of both?

Can I get a 100 in parenting?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Back to normal

Welcome 2011! Although, I must admit that 2011 still feels like 1977. A few days before school let out, my daughter came home saying that she wished she could have “wide eyes.”

My heart contracted in anxious pain, and my mind went reeling back to 1977. Kids surrounded me as I tried to leave my new school in rural East Tennessee. Taller kids, big mocking faces and chants of “Me Chinese. Me play joke …”

Before we had children, my husband and I discussed my hometown and my childhood experiences. We decided that once we had children, we would only live in places that were ethnically diverse. Madison is just that. So, I found it quite shocking that we would be dealing with this issue here.

As I’ve posted before, my daughter is struggling with her own ethnic identity. Of our two children, she is the one who looks less Asian. When we asked her why she wanted “wider eyes,” her response was “Because then, I would be normal like my friends.”

“Normal” is a word that creeps into my blog often (Mistaken Identity). To hear my daughter say it, not only showed her painful need for acceptance, but also brought back my old, childhood insecurities.

As a parent, I want to protect her. But life is filled with the need to be accepted and the need to conform. So now, I must pull out my best mommy advice from my mother’s guide to life.

“Your uniqueness sets you apart. Rejoice in that.”