29 October 2013

Love that Breaks the Mold

Re-homing and litigations have flooded the media stream. I have watched these stories repeat the anger and anguish in the Lost Daughters sisterhood. This frustration and repeated hurt weighed heavily on me.

Just as I felt I could take it no more, my family flew into town! All those negative feelings fell away from me when I saw my father, my sister and my niece. 

It was a euphoric weekend. Words cannot express what my photographs can. It was a joyous time, filled with laughter and love. My father can be so infectiously funny; he brings out the comedian in my son too. 

My daughter told me she heard my sister’s “Mommy voice” but that my sister’s voice was more “thoughtful.”  We were told by my children and my niece that the events on Sunday would not include us! Little did they know, we were thrilled by this declaration, though we didn’t show our delight.

But my sister and I were able to spend time with our father and each other.

We honored the legacy of our mother, in my separate photography project, Portrait of a Feminist.

And while I never was able to photograph my mother’s hands, my memory served me well when I saw my sister’s hands. Hers resembled those hands I remembered … the ones that comforted me, embraced me and held me throughout my life.

Many may ask if this biological resemblance might make me long to have the same. I do not. They might ask if I am saddened that I do not share this physical similarity. I am not. My family is that … my family. Their love sustains me, just as it continues to do for my children. 

Those who know us see the love that broke the mold. Even those unfamiliar with us see it. This Monday, I took my niece to my daughter’s school so that she could see my daughter. A teacher politely said, “I didn’t know you had another child.”

I replied, “Oh, I don’t. This is my niece.”

“Oh! I thought she was yours since she looks just like your daughter!” 

Other friends, upon seeing the photographs of our daughters, wrote things like, “Looking at 2 mini-me’s!” 

We just chuckle, because we know that biologically, our girls are not similar. We love the assumption though!

22 October 2013

Perfection is a Façade

An article on Carol Shipley’s new book, Love, Loss and Longing: Stories of Adoption, took my breath away this morning.

Her words had played out in my head for so many years. She said she wanted to be the voice for the voiceless. I had lost my voice years ago. I gave up to become what society wanted me to be.

I became white, Puerto Rican, and an academic over-achiever. My parents glowed as they would say, “It’s not us. She’s naturally smart. She’s so neat and intelligent. It’s in her genes.” They were proud, and I wanted to please them.

My academic achievements were also driven by my outward appearance. As an Asian, I was viewed as a mathematical genius. Teachers and college professors would encourage me to pursue mathematics. Mathematics did come naturally to me, but I yearned to express myself in words and artwork.

Shipley is quoted in the article saying that adoptees internalize an “adoption bargain” that manifests in the need “to be a perfect model daughter so the choice that the adoptive parents made will have been worth it.”

While I know my parents would love me no matter my performance, internally, I struggled with myself to be perfect in every way. I still exhibit this as an adult. I want to be the model parent, the model wife, the model person. As I spiral, I see this quality in my son. He also wants that perfection. He fears failure. Good grades are often not enough for him. I want to help him, but I still find myself struggling with the same demons.

Is there a person in Korea who could help me? Or did that person fear failing in parenthood? By all accounts, she did an excellent job in nurturing me until I was six months old. Her care and nursing has kept me healthy, and I have passed on her flora to my own children.

Here’s where my feelings rush in. I wonder about her and have since that first moment I knew I was pregnant. Not being able to ask her what she felt as I moved underneath her skin is a difficult feeling to suppress.

Shipley says, “The adoptee goes through life not wanting to hurt others, and in doing so, buries her own hurt.”

As a child, my hurt was recorded privately in journals. There are volumes of journals in our basement, spanning the days of “I love Donny Osmond,” to this blog. My emotions rush out on paper or over the keys. I also put much of my energy in trying to help others who might be in need or hurting. Social activism is my outlet. And sometimes, the hurt for others overcomes me.

This blog has helped me to know that others are out there hurting as I have. It has been a cathartic journey. I thank you for following; it heals me.

14 October 2013

American = White

I am exhausted. The shutdown, the politics, the racists.

Our lives are consumed by the government shutdown. The man is growing his beard until he can go back to work. That makes me cranky. I can’t kiss that.

But back to my rant. The hardest part for me is the showing of the rebel flag. I grew up in the South where the rebel flag flies high and proud … bumper stickers, t-shirts, flags on the back of pick-up trucks. I moved to escape them and the constant ridicule they brought me. I moved to erase the feelings of fear.

Despite my move from the Deep South, I am reminded that the attitudes and pride in those attitudes still live on. Just this summer, as I was enjoying a outdoor, public dance, a woman stood with her back just feet from my face. Her shirt emblazoned with that familiar, fear-evoking flag.

Now, our president is faced with this same flag. Let me repeat that: Our president is faced with this same flag. The Washington Post blogger, Jonathan Capeheart truly sums up my feelings when he writes:
“For those of you who would push back by saying we’re overreacting, that the Confederate flag is nothing more than a symbol of regional pride, save it. That flag you revere so much is no better than a Swastika, a threatening symbol of hate that has no place in American political discourse.”
The Politico, backs up this idea as it quotes Samuel Wurzelbacher, known as “Joe, the Plumber,” from an article he wrote. Wurzelbacher writes:
“Admit it. You want a white Republican president again. Wanting a white Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American.”
I interpret this to mean that if you are American, you want a president like you … white and male. This frightens me, that people in our country feel so strongly about this. That white equals American.

As a young Asian adoptee raised predominately by a white, Southern family, I once bought into that belief. I felt white, despite almost daily teasing that told me the truth … I was Asian.

I left the South almost twenty years ago. I love my Southern family and enjoy holidays where I can stay safely in the confines of my childhood home, but the moment we leave the house, the images from which I want to protect my children are everywhere. They are shocked at the sight of the flag. They know what it means, and I want to protect them from that gut-gripping fear I feel when I see it.

And yet, I cannot protect them. The divide in our country is emerging, and it is very much along the lines of race. I want to believe that the majority of Americans will soon see this divide and demand a reconciliation that respects our president because he was elected president, regardless of his race.

04 October 2013

Motherhood … a job well done?

At thirteen, I sank into depression. I became a person no one would recognize today, and I wrote my mother letters that said, “I wish you had never adopted me.” Those words wounded her.

I wouldn’t understand or remember the wounds until the week after her death. Going through her things, my sister and I found one of my teenage-angst-ridden letters. This was the only negative letter amongst every letter I had ever written her, a drawer full of letters from my days in college to our days in Rwanda. Our last joyous days before I became a parent were also there captured in this photograph from her visit in 1998.

All my teenage anger is now coming to the surface as I have my own thirteen-year-old. He’s struggling with himself, and often his words cut me just as mine cut my mother some 33 years ago. 

I am thankful for the friends who have supported me, but at times, it is hard. More seasoned parents will recall their troubles and say, “My mom was such a rock,” or “My mother was there to support me and show me the way.” Most do not know my personal struggles with the loss of my mother. I politely say “Thanks.” It is nice for those mothers and grandmothers to have that final realization that their job was done well in the end.

I wrestle with that. My mother didn’t have that realization, but I know she would have relished it. I am still on that rough road to finding the end … well-done.