24 December 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.

16 December 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. 

06 December 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,

05 December 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.