30 November 2013

The Road to Closure (Spoiler Alert)

The evening before the weekend adoption conference, this film played at the Minnesota Transracial Film Festival.

In it, I followed adoptee Angela from Bellingham, Washington, to a town I know well, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her journey is emotionally agonizing, yet beautiful. The filmmaker’s eye is keenly sensitive, yet honest.

Emotions pooled within me that I hadn’t known … a yearning, an aching for biological parents. I have spoken of my adoptive parents through much of this blog. But this night, I began to see the struggles and agonies of those whom adoptive children have left behind.

Angela is brave enough to confront these yearnings, as so many of my Lost Daughters’ sisters have. At 46, it seems futile for me to search … I think my parents could be long gone. But as this movie illustrated, it was bigger than Angela and her original parents. There were siblings, a grandmother, aunts, uncles, and others who wanted to know the lost sibling, granddaughter and niece.

Angela’s biological father also finds that he is not sterile as he had been told, and that in fact, he has a daughter! His delight is infectious. It reminded me of the delight in Haley’s father’s eyes on seeing her in China (Somewhere Between). I imagine the pain of these fathers and of Dusten Brown. It is not enough to recognize the loss of the original mother, but the pain and injustice to fathers who only want to love their children.

I also viewed a side of the adoption industry that troubled me. While I have read these things, to see them in action was agonizing. The agency in Angela’s original mother’s case revealed only scant, but troubling information about Angela’s biological sister’s “severe depression and possible multiple retardation,” reported in 1996, despite having the information about her whereabouts and adoptive family directly in front of her. The adoption agency worker in her Southern way carefully offered to contact “a worker at that office … to see if they have any way of contacting the other family.”

On the other hand, a touching, true testament to Angela’s adoptive mother’s love, was revealed. Every year, she had sent Angela’s birth mother a card with a letter chronicling Angela’s life. True love transcends all. But unfortunately, the adoption agency did not follow through and pass on these letters of love from one mother to another. In this film, Angela, her original mother and her adoptive mother share in the opening of this time capsule … so many years late in the opening.

Just as Angela’s adoptive mother had, my father and mother honestly shared all the information they had with me from a very early age. My parents respected me as an individual and loved me. I couldn’t ask for more … but then again, I just might need to ask the agency a few questions …

19 November 2013

Adoptees are a family.

As an adoptee, there are so many people who create your sense of self … adoptive families, birth families, and most importantly, adoptees. The latter has not come into fruition for me until this year. In September of last year, I met my first Korean adult adoptee. It was a serendipitous meeting.

So much has happened in this last year, but the cap to this year has been my connection to the Lost Daughters. I have learned so very much from them. The stories are all so different, but then again, so familiar.

How we got here has shaped us, and we continue to grow. The internet has granted us access to so many people. Again, only this year have I dived into the sea of social media; the wading has ended.

This flood of people has taught me so much about the struggles we all have … struggles with seeing our original birth certificates, struggles in not having birth certificates, struggles in blending two very important families into one.

Adoptees converged on St. Paul this weekend for the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative Conference. My drive to St. Paul had me in a twist of ambivalence. I feared rejection again from the group for having loved my adoptive parents, rejection from having not searched for my birth family, rejection for just being me.

What I discovered was a group that welcomed and enveloped me, as tentative as I was. We are our comfort. Thank you, adoptees.

Enveloped by the Lost Daughters.

With my Lost Daughter sisters.

With Deann Borshay Liem of First Person Plural.

With Fang Lee of Somewhere Between.

15 November 2013

My friends and family made me.

This week was my birthday week. Saying “week” must sound selfish, but to be honest, it is the best way for me to celebrate. My mid-November birthday was “given” to me by the Korean government so I have no “birth story.” I have my first pair of shoes that show the year I was born (Sheep). They have cracked with age much like my identity. So, give me a birthday week, people.

My week began with my friend, Adrienne. She and her son visited. Her story of the weekend is here. Adrienne has been my link to my birth country, Korea. She brought me beautiful Korean gifts.

My birthday week brought lovely gifts from my friend, Katherine. She reminded me where my heart lies … Virginia.

But the most poignant gift came from my kids. Their gift was this movie (from my wish list).

I promised them that we would watch it as a family when I return.

So, to cap off my week, I am headed to St. Paul to the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative Conference. This will be my way of filling in the cracks. Stay tuned …

05 November 2013

We are entitled.

Yesterday on a drive around town, my son again opened up the conversation. “I know you are going to hate this, but … ”

These days with a teen, I just never know what is going to be said. One painstaking one was, “I didn’t choose to be born.” Choices. We all have them. Some more than others.

In my teenage days, my stab came in the form of “I wish you had never adopted me.” I’ve been turning all these sayings over in my head, and I regret that last one, just as my son apologized for his.

This week, I was also reminded of my time in Rwanda in the 1990s. Choices in Rwanda were more fundamental. Choices were built on survival. Do you fetch water or go without? Do you trap animals in the forest or go hungry? Western eyes would enter and assess with Western views. Fundamental survival is not a Western worry.

I see parallels in the adoption community. Some adoption agencies and potential adoptive families look at adoption as a way of saving the adoptee. Saving a child from the culture of have nots. But what is it they do not have? A plethora of dining choices? Filtered, bottled water? The newest technology? A chance at fleeting fame?

Much has been said about international adoptees’ lack of gratitude. If a teenage adoptee is not the model teenager (though what teen is), there is the option of rehoming. But what person is grateful when he or she have no choices or too many?

Child adoptees have no choices. They do not choose their parents. They do not choose their futures in families. So what can we do as a society that cares for our children and the future of our world? Listen. The voices of adult adoptees should not be hushed or asked to take a more thankful tone. Adult adoptees are actively looking out for the futures of the young. Choices in the lives of child adoptees need to be mindful and adapted based on past mistakes and successes. 

As a parent, I have parented with a level of choices for my children. When they were small, I realized that my children really did not have the ability to make educated choices, so I often gave them two accepted choices. Now that they are older, I struggle to offer the choices that will ultimately determine whether or not they will make the choice I would. My son is old enough now to see my cracks and flaws and point them out. He sees my choice may not be the best one.

So, his question yesterday ended with “ … I don’t want another phone unless it is an iPhone.” Imagine my frustration. He saw it, then said, “Really, Mom. You love your iPhone and cannot do without it.” Point taken. 

In the 1970s, when Nike became THE shoe, I had a similar conversation with my father. “I don’t want my buddies, I want Nikes!” My parents did not have the means to buy these expensive shoes, so I heard this little ditty as I walked the halls, “Buddies, they cost a dollar-99. Buddies, they make your feet feel fine … ”

My father responded by drawing the Nike symbol on a piece a paper and asked if I might hand him my buddies so that he could draw that coveted symbol on them. Okay, Dad, after all these years. Point taken.

02 November 2013

The Woman in the Mirror

When I was small, my mother would often be presented with this question:

“Will you tell her she’s adopted?”

My mother’s response was always, “Oh, she has only to look in the mirror!” I talk about this in my first blog post in 2007. When I began this blog, it was to honor my mother and father and to record my history for my children.

The last year has brought many revelations. I’ve met more adoptees, watched adoption movies, written for the Lost Daughters … and I have looked in the mirror more closely. 

Today, as a transracial adoptee, I am often presented with this question:

“When did you know you were racially different?”

Initially, my simplistic answer was, “When I saw myself in the mirror.” But that answer is really a reflection of my mother’s story and her answer. I have repeated that answer for close to 40 years.

Now, the mirror reveals so much more. She’s Korean, yes, but she also still sees the white Tennessean, the Puerto Rican, the wife of the white Brit, and the mother of mixed race children. Unfortunately, the rest of the world only sees what the mirror reflects.

Perhaps that is my biggest frustration. I am so much more than Korean.