“It is not the job of the child to attach to a parent, rather the parent’s job to attach to the child” – RTaddonio
When I first began this journey of becoming an “adoption professional” I volunteered for an adult adoptee organization and traveled all over to share my personal story to help newly minted adoptive parents do a “better job.” The focus was to show them what worked, what didn’t and give recommendations for the future, in otherwords, be the example. I would have parents come up to me saying they hope their kid turns out just like me. It made me proud, like I was giving a gift. I was such a punk! Not a parent, I gave advice like water.
Now I am a mother and the chickens have come to roost, my friends. All those years of demanding that parents embrace their child’s culture and own some aspect of it with genuine love, has put me squarely in the position of walking the talk. Several months ago, I received a phone call from a Korean mother in my child’s school asking if I would help with a Korean cultural assembly. The Korean last name on my kids ratted me out as one of them.
The task? To learn the Korean fan dance that a group of mothers were going to present. I danced seriously for many years, so to get a chance to dance anything again was enticing. To do it all in Korean was daunting but exciting. To look at my kids and say that I participated in something that would make them proud of being Korean? Absolutely. I jumped in with both feet not knowing what I signed up for. For two months, we danced every week for at least 2 hours! The instructor, herself a mom and once a professional classical dancer in Korea, spoke only Korean and was ruthless in her demand for perfection from the choreography to where the hairpins laid in our hair. It was fun, hard, frustrating, embarrassing, lonely and I am so glad I did it.
I made no real friends to speak of and yet, I know I could call upon these women if I had to. They were careful to not be too curious about who I was. They spoke to me in Korean, I answered in a mishmash of Korean and English, just like their American born kids. It was a polite relationship. Perhaps it was an occupational hazard of being curious, but I think it had more to do with the fact that I was an outsider, someone who would not gossip about them among the Korean community, that they opened up to me in interesting ways. After all, I wasn’t really in that world. I felt like I was given entree into an inner sanctum and they shared a whole lot. First off, I asked them their real names, the name they were born with. It sounds benign, but a Korean woman rarely uses her given name once she has children. She is simply referred to as the mother of her oldest child. Forever. It was easier for me to keep track of who they were, but asking something that personal gave me permission to ask more questions. I learned who came to this country as a child, as an adult and why. I learned who married out and who married in. I learned who worked and who didn’t. I learned about the nature of their relationships with their parents, who talked to their Umma every day, and how they really felt about their in-laws.
For those two months, I was one of them as much as I wanted to be. They spoke to me in formal Korean, greeted me the same as the others and cooed over my children as so many Korean Ummas are so great at doing. It was nice to be in their fold, but exhausting. At the end of the day, being a Korean mother did not fit too well and I was glad when the whole thing was over.
Our dance was a grand success. There are parents who still rave about it. My son participated in the Tae-Kwon-Do presentation and learned a Korean song. He was so proud and all his classmates thought he was really cool. Watching him up on stage was awesome. It was at that moment that I thought….so, this is why all those adoptive mothers do this kind of stuff. I thought of all the many culture days and Lunar New Year festivals I attended with adoptive parents in native garb trying hard to eat with chopsticks and stepping ALL IN to learn all they could about their child’s birth culture. Honestly, I would be embarrassed for them at times and wonder why they were trying so hard. Now a mother, I see that if you love someone so much, you will embarrass yourself to all ends to show your love.
It reminded me of the quote my old supervisor/boss would say time and time again – It is a parent’s job to attach, not the child’s. So, I promptly wrote a humble “thank you” note to a few adoptive mothers who have become my mentors and friends as I navigate motherhood. I thanked them for being the talk and embracing their children so wholeheartedly that they did the embarassing and often unthinkable to show that love. It is not as easy as one would think.