03 June 2010

Oh! To be adopted!

Today, I took my daughter to a friend’s home for a music demo. The neighborhood is a very eclectic mix of people. Many different races were represented there. Couples with babies and toddlers, and mothers with school-aged children, all sat together listening.

One Asian mother sat criss-cross applesauce with her Asian toddler comfortably sitting in her donut-hole lap. My daughter kept focused on this mother and her daughter.

I’ve grown increasingly worried that my daughter feels as though she has no roots. Being of mixed race seems to be a curse, rather than a blessing to her. She is neither fully Asian nor fully Caucasian. I secretly envy her. She got the best features of each.

During the recent Winter Olympics, we watched intently as Kim Yu Na won her gold medal. I said to my children that she was Korean and told them that this brought a great honor to the people of South Korea. My daughter asked why I had told them this. I said, “Well, you are Korean.”

Her response? A quizzical “I am?!?!?”

In the following days, she asked me to wear my hair in a bun and act like Kim Yu Na. “Learn more Korean and teach me,” she would say. One day, I put my hair in a bun and suggested that I could do the same for her. She said, “I don’t want a bun because I’m not really Korean.”

It seemed she was struggling as much as I had with her ethnic identity.

So today after taking in this group of diverse ethnicity, my daughter, who resembles her English father more, leaned over and whispered in an excited voice, “I look like I’m the one adopted!”

And now, the word takes on a life of its own.

31 May 2010

Korea is my mother.

My husband recently came home obsessed with another woman.

He explained that she looked similar to me and had the same mannerisms. Every move I made was followed by a “Do you realize how Korean you are?”

This from the man who has lived with me for the last 17 years. He knows everything about me. And I feel at times we’re truly one person. But that day, he viewed me as a different person.  He had made a discovery.

That week, during his work trip, he had met a Korean American woman. He said he felt he had seen my twin. While she certainly did not have a Southern drawl, she did have my fastidiousness. And he felt her mannerisms mirrored mine.

This seemed to intrigue and disturb him all at once. I think he felt he knew everything about me: my upbringing in Tennessee, my Puerto Rican roots, my lack of interest in my biological background. But now, he had seen glimpses of my Korean heritage. Glimpses he felt I knew nothing about.

Sure, I do not know that much about Korea. But recently, my friends have been educating me on all things Asian. It has been a journey, but a personal one. All this time, I realized that I hadn’t shared my discoveries with him.

Once again, there is a reminder that I am not completely sure of who I am. I do know myself as a Korean-adopted Tennerican, but I do not know myself as a Korean.

I recently watched my first episode of the television program, Glee. In it, a young teen, raised by adoptive fathers finds her birth mother and longs for a relationship. The birth mother seems to sum up my quandary and says, “I’m your mother, not your Mom.”

Korea is my mother but not my Mom.

02 February 2010

The loss of a mother

On another day in February, years ago, my mother sat. Tears welled up in her eyes. And we asked what was wrong.

That same day, years before, her mother and our grandmother had died. She kept the date of loss with her and remembered every year, while I only remembered when she started crying. At that time, my grandmother was the most significant loss I had experienced. And yet, I did not remember the date of her death. The loss of a parent is so much more significant.

This Sunday it was announced that someone had lost her mother. The daughter was merely an acquaintance. I had just recently started singing again, and we both sang first soprano in the church choir. But the news hit me hard. I began to cry silently.

So many times, people have asked me if I wanted to find my “real” mother. But my real mother was the woman who raised me.

She comforted me when I had lost my first love. She scrutinized my subsequent boyfriends. She protected me, sometimes too much. She cried when I flew to Africa with my new husband. And she rejoiced in the birth of my son. That is a mother … a real mother.

Today, I remember her death like it was yesterday. Just as she did every twenty-fourth of February. The pain is still the same, though on most days it is eclipsed by music lessons, school pick-ups, bedtime stories and such. But every February 2, I am reminded of the morning call in 2001.

It was my father. His voice had a restrained calm about it. And when he called, I knew. I cried that day as I cradled my little boy. I was clinging to the one thing of hers I had left … being a mother.

26 January 2010


Today, as my children and I prepared for the school day, my son asked, “Mom, will you be coming on the fieldtrip tomorrow?” I said yes, and his response almost made me cry.

Some nine years ago, he climbed on the bus for kindergarten. He was tentative and gave me a big hug and kiss before he climbed on board. Within six months, I was told, “Can you kiss me at home before we walk to the bus stop?” My heart sank.

Now, he’s a fourth grader, and usually doesn’t want me to show affection toward him in public.

But today, he showed enthusiasm by answering “Yeah!”

I am mother. Hear me roar.

25 January 2010

I am mother. Hear me roar!

A year ago, my son lost his most treasured possession, a small Gap Hopper simply named “Bunny” at the Nick Hotel in Orlando. And with Bunny’s disappearance, I realized that I had allowed my professional life to eclipse my family life.

At the end of our stay, I was too busy refining my course syllabus to make the final sweep of the hotel room. I had my first class meeting the next morning at 9 a.m.

Irreplaceable, Bunny continues to come up in conversation. “He won’t know where to find us when we move.” “He’s never seen Wisconsin.” Now, his younger, yet bigger cousin, Bunny #2 keeps vigil.

My mother struggled with her role as a stay-at-home mother. I remember her saying things like, “I just want to have something that is MINE,” or “I need a reason to get out of the house.”

Insensitive, I grew up telling her I would never marry, let alone have kids, and that I would live the hopping life of a New York journalist, driving my BMW and writing for the Rolling Stone. How that must have hurt her. She had spent her life making mine better.

When my son was born, I struggled with my immature feelings about being the young hot shot. But caring for him day to day became the most gratifying job I’d ever had. And when my mother died during my son’s eighth month of life, a part of me felt I should give him what she had given me. During the funeral, my sister told me that our mother felt that I had honored her by following in her footsteps. But the struggle was only suppressed.

I eventually became an adjunct professor, a freelancer and an AIGA board member in Virginia. But remember Bunny? Mommy took a back seat.

Recently our move to Wisconsin allowed me to step back and re-evaluate the past year. The loss of Bunny will forever remind me of my inadequacy in my position as mother.

I tell myself daily that will never occur again. My children are growing up, and each day brings a new revelation.

Last night at 1 a.m., my son came into our room. He was frantic. Bunny #2 was lost. We searched the entire house until 2:30. At which point, I could not sleep. Where could he be? We would not lose another Bunny. Not under my watch.

My search lead me to the dirty, snow-covered curb. Armed with a flashlight, in my pajamas, a coat and boots, I searched our recycle wheely bin. And half way down, Bunny #2 looked up at me as if to say, “Thank goodness! I wondered if you would come find me before the trash truck arrived!”

I am mother. Hear me roar!