Privilege

If you are living a life where there seemed to be little choice, little care in how you think or feel; where happiness as a possible pursuit was dashed, I wonder if it is nearly impossible to think of life as privileged based on the color of your skin, your gender or sexual orientation?  I do workshops on race and racism with adoptive parents, mostly Caucasian adoptive parents to children who are not.  I had a father, Caucasian, who was genuine in his confusion as to how I could possibly label him “privileged.”  How dare I – who knows nothing about him, what he has lived or how he has struggled – possibly say he comes from a place of privilege based on his gender and his skin color?  He’s right.  How dare I?  But how could I see it and he can’t/won’t? I am a woman, adopted, Asian American. How would I cross that chasm to bring him to my world?  What was I inviting him to see?  Will seeing it be worth all the work, resentment, pain and shame?  What would it take for him to know what it feels like to be me?  Is it just because he has a kid that looks like me?  Is that enough of a reason for him to get it?  While I don’t think so, it is a beginning.  I want him to get it as a human being, not just a father of a child who was born from a Korean person.  But for a moment, he was willing to listen because I look like his kid.

It isn’t right for me to want to humble this man into believing that he has walked through life without having to second guess his right to be in a room, in a restaurant, in a store, in a place of higher education, in a neighborhood.  If he does know those feelings, does he get that he has far more places to escape to than I do?  What is my end goal in getting in touch with these feelings?  Compassion for people like me, like his son?  Perhaps it is compassion for himself so he can own his privilege and in that owning be open to others who are not.

It got me thinking of how I could convey to this Dad a way of thinking that comes to me pretty regularly based on traveling in this country in places where my face was clearly an apparition, not just the Caucasian world I would add.  There are places I don’t go not because I can’t but because I won’t dare.  There are some places in this country where it would not fall on my radar of options even if I think myself brave and adventurous; not because of fear or insecurity but because of fear of death.

More subtly and consistently is the knowing what privilege does for anyone.  With it, I know eventually I will be accepted if I make one connection.  Without it, I feel unwelcome and most definitely waiting for a chance for someone to take the risk in getting acquainted.  That simultaneous feeling of unwelcome and waiting is really humiliating.

I think what is slippery for an adopted person of color though is that we live in privilege, see it up close and personal and most often operate from that same sense of knowing as our Caucasian parents do until…. the line gets cut off right behind them in a restaurant leaving you behind, until you are spoken to loudly because the assumption is you don’t speak English, until the dressing attendant passes you by to give your options to the other girl who matches your Mother’s complexion far better than you do.  A one off?  Could be.  An embarrassing moment?  For them maybe.  Completely understandable?  Not totally.  Not if you are in my shoes today and every day.

At the same time, I fully suspect there are transracial adoptees who believe themselves to be a version of their Caucasian upbringing and believe that shared history entitles them to the same privilege as their parents.  How humiliating when it is not.  How disturbing to see such ignorance within our own community.  How helpless it feels to see the pain of realization when that changes.

I find myself ruminating about the father who was brave to challenge this notion of privilege.  I felt as if he was was listening to a vocabulary that was all new.  He was genuine in his non-understanding of it.  I think what put me off was the defensive posturing that went along with it.  Again, privilege without knowing it. Getting defensive feels like a luxury.  Who has time to debate whether racism and privilege exist or not? Yet, time is what I really want. Time to talk, to listen, to challenge and to invite.

What strikes me odd about the conversation of privilege is that I am the one doing the thinking, the inviting, the asking, the educating as if I am the pied piper hoping for followers to hear the music when others don’t.   I cannot imagine living in one or two dimensions, homogeneous and passively engaged upon.  But I doubt there is a sense of privilege in that either.  What is the subtlety I keep twisting in my fingers that have no words?  As I see it, it is my privilege to see the differences, the times when inequality happens.  I love the music and colors I see in my world of being other. It is my narrative burden and yet I am empowered.  I am empowered by the challenges overcome, the pain transformed and the celebration of uniqueness. I want others to see it, to reflect on it. Without it, I would feel so empty. I don’t really think of it as a burden, it is a privilege for me to talk to people about this subject matter.

I always leave workshops hoping to gain more members (allies?) of my world of color.  Not confident that I do.  After all, I know that that father can walk out of the room and never have to think about this again.  He doesn’t absolutely have to get it.  He actually will still be loved by his son; he may even be given a pass of forgiveness for not getting it.  Privilege. But I fear his world will be absent of a real connection to his child and the legacy of the family he created by adopting him.  I know too many adoptees who leave their relationships with their parents behind because this cannot and will not be open for discussion.  For them it is not just a matter of privilege, but of life.

Home

Home is together
Home is C- making a racket
Home is a castle wall to any danger
Home is peaceful
Home is a remedy to sadness
Home is a big room full of love
Home is where fun begins
Home is G saying, “Do I have to?”
Home is sometimes like a movie theater
Home is a place where treasures are kept

My big boy half heartedly belabors the writing homework he gets but I love the end products.  He is a lovely poet and this one made my heart sing.  The luxury of motherhood right now is that my children are young.  They still go to bed when I tell them to and sleep through the night without a thought to sneaking out or taking their “toys” to bed with them to play all night long.  They still opt to host sleepovers and they have yet to drag out the goodbye from a playdate, happy to be going home.

As in everything, developing as a human cycles round and round – come close to me, keep away from me…again and again.  We feel so needed when our babies are born, they seem so small and helpless.  We are the beginning and end of every day.  Even at their first launch, they are still wanting home….and then they hit middle school, ugh. It’s not my turn yet, but P’s eyes are lifting and the thoughts are deeper and the comparing and measuring up is getting more deliberate.  “Couldn’t we just get a smallish house?”; ” His brother is a bit annoying”; “Why does it matter if the logo is on the outside of the car, we can see it on the inside?” ; “She used to be her friend, but now she isn’t, I don’t get it.”  The thoughts of how others run their home are coming up; questions about nannies, housekeepers, cleaning ladies, working moms, working dads, who coaches, who doesn’t.  The response, “that’s how we do it in our home” is becoming less sufficient.
Consistently a late bloomer, it wasn’t until my 20s when it hit me that all families run differently, really really differently.  Rules were nebulous as every home had different ones.  I feel like I have been a watcher of families, mothers especially.  Watching and taking note like facing a huge buffet.  Other homes had a little bit of sarcasm, heavy serving of touch, peppering of questions, smattering of pet names, tons of eye contact, presentation of choices and compromise.  I wasn’t comparing, just taking inventory of the rules that I abided by and realized that as an adult, I can now choose the rules I want to follow and create.  Now a mother, I am the giver and keeper of rules.  My home is run by countless rules and I wonder at what point will my children realize that they can defy, bend, denounce, trounce and experiment with them.  I fancied myself a control freak of only my own life.  After all, I don’t ask them to comply with my sense of cleanliness, order or what constitutes as a toy worth saving.  My gestures of cleaning, organizing and general swirls of constant motion are for the most part ignored by all the other residents of the home.  My rules make sense to me but in fairness, it helps that I am a bit more compulsive around here as it keeps the home humming smoothly and makes for a less crabby mommy.  However, it seems my control issues are creeping up as pink flags in ways I have not suspected.  My sense of order and orderliness keeps me busy so I don’t have to sit.  Did I grow up with this? Perhaps.  I am being reminded these days to have more fun.  To my children and husband, they could not care less whether the dishes are put away before bed, the closet doors are closed, that the floor is vacuumed or scrubbed on my hands and knees, or whether the shower curtain is pulled back with a ribbon not an elastic.  My doing is in turn the “not doing” of others and thus my very controlled world.  My doing is my way of contributing to the passing of time in a productive manner not lazily.  It is how I show my worth in my home.  Again, my rules, no one else’s.
I think about how ‘worth’ is brought up a lot in the adoptee world.  Am I worth all that I have?  If I don’t keep moving, will my worth cease to exist?  Is my worth wrapped around what I cram in one 24 hour period?  The idea of existence and worth, deserving to be here when the alternative throughout life was that I could have fared much worse.  Ugh, here comes the gratitude thing again.  Does it matter a whole hell of a lot?  Yes, this is the essence of it all!  And no it shouldn’t.
We hide our worst selves in the privacy of our homes.  If being this “organized” allows me to be calm outside, so what?  In writing this, I am reminding myself that it is what is going on with the humans in my home that matters and gives me the strength to live outside serenely.  My boy’s poem was a wonderful reminder that despite all my rummaging around to keep order, he sees home in the most comforting way.
So, I am cutting myself some slack here.  The floors will only get cleaned once a week!

here, there and everywhere

There are quite a few adoptive families in my school district, some conspicuous, some not. I was waiting for my kids to come out of school when I heard a little girl’s voice scream “Daddy!!!.”  I looked to see an Asian girl jump into the arms of her Causation father.  Meanwhile,  her older sister, also Asian and adopted, and their Caucasian mother were looking on smiling. It was beautiful. A daughters exuberance for her father and outwardly displayed.  If only it was just another ordinary gleeful moment.  I smiled but in my head, I started to think and wonder how’s it going there in that family?  There is a child adopted in one of my son’s classes.  She knows it, and I know it, no one else seems to notice.  It feels like a secret club, the art of knowing something others don’t.  Then, I wonder, what does she think about being adopted and having to do all those class projects?  Her baby picture looks like everyone else in the classroom where six of the 21 kids are Asian, and yet it doesn’t.  It’s a referral photo.  I know it, she knows it…

I once told an Asian American friend of mine that there is a slight style difference for the kids adopted and those not; between the Americanized Asians and the adopted.  I am not caught by surprise when I find out he/she is adopted.  They move differently and most of the time, their clothes are different and their jackets are not buttoned all the way to the top with hat, scarf and gloves on either.

There is adoption in my church.  I am watching, listening and trying to put on a happy face while the excitement of creating family is cooed over.  I love these couples, particularly the gay couple.  I can’t wait till they are fathers.  All the while I am thinking, wondering, questioning, judging.  It makes me anxious and nosy and wanting to run out of the room all at once.  I know too much.  It never turns off.  Occupational hazard or personal life hazard?

I go to a dinner and the proverbial question of what do I do for a living comes up.  To say I work in adoption brings about a smile and “awww, that’s so nice.”  Pause.  Do I say I am adopted too?  Rather, what to do when the host or others introduce you as one who is adopted?  Mindful of that wedding I went to and outed as adopted on the receiving line.  Awkward and wishing for the floor to open up and suck me down. Really?  That’s how I am seen?  That is the conversation starter?  I AM the conversation starter?  I admit to not having thick enough emotional armor to shield me from wincing inside and the stomach begins to churn and I can’t wait to go home.

I am passionate about adoption, but perhaps not in the usual way that most people are accustomed to.  I am not sharing the glamorous story of how a child was saved or the exotic travels to far away backwards places to rescue a baby.  I have no harrowing story of the wait, the process, the delays, the angst, the heart in your mouth drama till a child comes home right where she belongs…. I don’t want to talk about my time in an orphanage.  What will it mean to you to know why I was “given up” for adoption.  I don’t want to talk about how I “tracked down” my birthmother or the miraculous way she found me.  I don’t want you to tell me what great parents I must have.  I don’t want to see that puzzled look when I say that life wasn’t all that great growing up adopted.  I definitely don’t want to talk about how grateful I must feel. I don’t need to hear about an adoption story gone well, wrong, amiss.  I don’t need to hear the whisper of how messed up a kid was or how blissfully happy and “totally normal”  your adoptee turned out.

Most of the time, I just want to know how the dinner came together, what drinks are good, the latest parenting mishap and what it’s like to do what others do.

Sometimes, I just want to have dinner, pick up my kids, fall asleep in church unnoticed and turn it all off.

Resolving my resolutions

Resolutions are hard.  I am terrible at keeping them.  This blog has been a resolution of sorts.  Clearly, I have already fallen off the wagon!

I have been collecting scraps of paper again scribbling things down that have happened in the past year, that would be 2012.  While baking, putting up and taking down the tree, trying to put in exercise into my 2013 regiment, dealing with the flu or whatever bug the kids have been passing back and forth to each other, I am always thinking.  My lens is still adoption. Adoption is never casual in my life.  I can’t simply say I am adopted or that I work in adoption and let it be.  There is always something personal that comes up.  There is rarely something personal about being a tax attorney, a hedge fund guy, a doctor, in the same gut kicking way it can be for me as an adoptee who works in adoption.

In my reflecting, I got to meet more adoptees than I have in a very long time.  Introverted by nature, meeting new people and doing small talk is not a natural occurrence.  I have really enjoyed meeting this new group of adoptees.  They are in the collective of being a generation behind me.  They remind me of how unique our experiences are and I love that they are optimistic enough to choose to work in this field, challenge and change the language.  I am most impressed by their connection to Korea, some lived there for years, some are anxious to live there.  I like this new role I am finding myself in, the role of teacher and mentor.  Always mothering and yet with the added excitement of passing along my 20 years of life working in adoption.  Inspired and looking forward to inspiring.

While my reading and educating these days are limited to Time Magazine, Newsweek, NPR, Melanie Klein and Winnicott, I am loyal to KoreAm magazine too.  Aside from the beautiful eye candy of Korean and Korean American men on the cover, I have been impressed by the magazine’s continual coverage of issues facing adoptees – from the twins who are homeless in Washington, DC, to featuring an adoptee with world renowned chefs, to a story on an adoptee who is involved in activism for issues in Korea.  Thank you KoreAm for your inclusion of adoptees in just about every issue!

2012 brought an awareness of other areas of activism that I have often felt too overwhelmed to think about.  The issues of deportation, citizenship, wrongful death of adopted children and suicide among the adoptee community.  I thank the few but vocal adoptees who have pushed to get these stories out.  I am grateful for the APRC (Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative) for wanting to shed brighter lights on these issues.  I have been challenged to be more inclusive and realize that I need to get my head out of my ass and think more about those who have really struggled.  Is it just because of adoption?  Is adoption THE symptom?  If these children and adults were not adopted, would it have changed things?  Are we looking at victims or part of the solution? Food for more thought.

2012 brought some personal victories and has fueled new passion.  I have been thinking of the now decades I have been in the adoption community and realize only now I am not alone.  My friend Martha (and mom of two adopted kids) and I have become a presenting duo!  And our blog – alliesandagitators.com – has been really fun to write.  To find an ally is like finding a part of you in someone else.  She has stood up for me, stood with me and made me feel less crazy.  I have been asked to write for other blogs.  I have been told by dear friends that I need to stop feeling like I need to prove and sit in the place of knowing.  I have been asked to write more and so, I am resolved to do just that.

While the lens is adoption, I am finding my eyes diverting.  After meeting with the head of advocacy for the SOS Children’s Villages, I realized that at every turn when adoption is discussed, we never complete the conversation about where homeless, orphaned, abused/neglected children should be?  To often the children’s issues get diverted to the grown ups in the situation – parental rights, women’s issues, institutional policies, politics.  I am drawn to the SOS Children’s Villages construct because it focuses on child and family with the basic caveat that children belong in families.  But they take it one step further to ensure continuity for children and while adoption is not off the table, it is not the central apparatus to create family.  The first page of their booklet has the word CARE.  I think this is my new favorite word.  I had been asked to review statements on adoption for this organization.  I am resolved to finish those statements and I am looking forward to a change in direction where adoption is not the only lens I see my life through.

Geneology and Christmas past

Christmas always brings about the conversation of why we celebrate the birth of Jesus in my home.  I have sold it as a birthday party for the man who is believed to be the beginning of what we know to be Christianity.

There used to be a list that got distributed widely about “famous people who were adopted.”  Aside from the wording – WERE adopted as  opposed to ARE adopted, I always thought it odd to include the characters in the Bible – Moses, Jesus….

So, in church we are given the geneological history of Jesus.  Aside from it being an absolute tongue twister, I was struck by the care given to this list.  What struck me more interesting is the way it was presented by the Pastor.  I wrote it down:

This geneology is important as a way of understanding our past and where we are going.  He added that “your past is important only as it leads to today…a prologue to tomorrow.”  The past inspires our present.  Celebrating our past, but not leaving it at that….

Apparently, the list of Jesus’ ancestors is not something that is often read aloud.  It is hard to read, the names are complicated to pronounce.  History is never easy, is it?

What struck me significant is the effort the Bible makes in creating such documentation.  It is further complicated in my head as I think,  if such a revered book takes pains to write this bit of history, I wonder why the many who profess the Bible as their SOURCE can have such trouble acknowledging the history so many adoptees wish for themselves.  To have such a prologue seems to be selective.  Such selectivity makes my heart ache.  I have been fortunate to have a copy of my hojuk (my family registry), but too many of my brothers and sisters are without or are holding onto a fiction created by others who do not deem us worthy of having the same past as them.

My Christmas wish is for us to read this complicated geneology and pray for the same of all those born.  If we see nothing behind us, how do we know where we are going?  How does one move forward with no past?

Conventional Wisdom

It’s the holiday season and a time to be merry.  It’s the time of year when we show the best sides of ourselves – the compassionate, the generous, the religious, the holy side of us.  Our tree is up in our home and this year, I managed to put up a wreath on the door too.  I am not a big decorator, simple and plain is my way.  My big boy was my assistant holding the lights and ribbon while I placed them on the tree.  Round and round we went.  It is those golden moments when our hands are busy that conversations are the most profound.

“Mommy? Is there any place in the world that there are no christians?”….”Why are there so many christians?”  I never knew stringing lights could be such an intellectual exercise!

We live in an area where I can actually name a person, a friend who practices a different religion.  What’s great about that is the sense of inclusion that such intimacy provides.  All kids want a sense of belonging.  Isn’t that what religion is supposed to provide after all?

I grew up being raised Catholic with a Catholic mom and a Jewish dad.  We celebrated everything.  One sister would wear both a cross and Star of David.  My parents were amused by this.  I thought it just made sense.  I find my son now saying we should celebrate Hanukkah because of my adoptive family’s roots, so their menorah of wood and metal washers glued atop made at a nursery school based in a Christian Church is on our table next to the evergreen holly candelabra.  While the motivation is to say we celebrate everything, I like the nonchalance of the mixing of the traditions and beliefs.

Conventional wisdom says that adults know better, we are supposed to be wiser then.  But the kids have it right on this point, I believe. There is no proper way to celebrate, no one way to doing things.  It is more important to acknowledge and choose it all.

Which brings me to adoption, OF COURSE.  There is no one way to define adoption and make sense of it.  It is in the acknowledgement of a truth adoption means – transplanting and mixing of blood, heritage, history, loss, gain, grief, joy, family.  There are those who simply and plainly define adoption as a way for a child to gain legitimacy – to adopt is to give a child is a name, citizenship, acknowledgement of birth.  I accept that my adoption has given me that.  To have faith is simple and plain too.  It sets the foundation to what we acknowledge is our relationship with an alternate being.  It is in the translation of such simplicity that makes it all too complicated.

So, here is to the complicated, the grey and the in-between.  I wish you a wonderful holiday season to you and hope that the adventure of discovering the middle ground continues in the new year!

Another letter…to the Powerball winner

I love paper, especially stationary.  I have found myself in just about every stationary store around caressing the boxes of cards and card stock wondering who I might write my next card to.  I love writing notes and letters.  This is not a lost art in my home.  Writing a note or letter is like fulfilling the fantasy conversation I wish to have without awkwardness and uncomfortable pauses.  It allows for thoughtful words rather than an instant reaction.  So, in staying with this theme, I have another letter I have recently penned to the recent big winner of the Powerball lottery. Here goes:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Hill

Congratulations on you big win!  Wow!  Your lives will be forever changed and I hope for the better.  I played in hopes of winning big.  Alas, I did not fare so well. I am sure I am in good company in daydreaming for a few minutes on what I would do if I ever won such a large sum.  I hope you will realize your dreams and spread a little joy around your community as well.

My wistful good wishes stopped though, once I read an article about your win in Huffington Post.  Mrs. Hill, your comment “Some of the money will go toward travel, perhaps back to China for another adoption or ‘wherever the wind takes us,'”  made my heart sink.  Please don’t let the wind blow you to another adoption.  Please don’t go “out of your way” again, as one of your neighbors so generously described your first adoption.  You see, that kind of thinking scares the living daylights out of me.  My thoughts of how lovely your humbleness was, got drowned out with thoughts of rescue, saving, God’s will and all of that in my head.  Those thoughts led me to the countless conversations with international adoptees as they struggle to make sense of the painful realization that being “saved and rescued” didn’t save or rescue them from the many losses, grievances and holes in their hearts.  As adults, they are grappling with the multiple conflicting identities within them.  Sure adoption doesn’t do this for all, but I have never met an adoptee who did not have a wish or desire to better understand how they got adopted.

If travel is what you wish, by all means travel.  I hope you do get to go to China and go often.  And bring your precious daughter there too so she can learn from where she came and gain a sense of wholeness in the duality of being Chinese and American.  Her wholeness of self will be a tremendous legacy of your choice to adopt her.

If you believe that God has truly blessed you with this money, I wonder if you might consider a different role in adoption, that of an ally rather than an advocate.  You see, every marginalized community seeks allies – those who represent the majority and stand with and by to witness, support, challenge and help advance their message.  We need more allies in adoption.  I invite you to be such an asset to the adoption world.  I am pleased you want to support education.  Might I suggest starting a foundation for the adoptees who are in need of ongoing support and services here in the United States, many of whom are from China?  There are adoptee organizations in America who are on shoestring budgets to sustain themselves in order to run mentoring programs, cultural events, and education programs.  There are adoptive parent groups who need help in accessing ongoing support for themselves and their children.  In your homestate of Missouri, there is a wonderful institution, Washington University George Warren Brown School of Social Work with graduate students working to gain a better understanding of what institutionalization does to children.

I have worked in placement and wonder aloud how you would be able to adopt if you so wish.  There are restrictions in place and rules, such as age, that qualify a prospective adoptive parent.  I wonder if, given your new found wealth, you will be circumventing these rules in order to adopt again?  Is this what you mean by God’s will?  I truly hope not.  Our adoption system is so broken as it is, to know that you might think about challenging the few criteria that exist in order to fulfill your desire is troublesome indeed.  How will you explain this to your new child, the daughter you have already?  Instead, I hope you have stayed connected to the agency that facilitated your first adoption.  What if you went back to that agency and allotted some funds to support their post-adoption department?

I know I have no right to suggest any of this.  You and your money will go where you wish.  After all, we live in a country that abides by this freedom of thought and choice.  I suppose I am living vicariously through you and your big windfall and hope upon hope that you might consider some of these ideas along the way.

Thank you for your kind consideration.

Good News, With Thanks, Still Skeptical

Last week the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare came out with a press release as they move toward ratification of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.  The small but mighty group of Korean adoptees working in Korea and the many who support them Stateside declared this to be a document worth many thanks.  Here in New York, I am skeptically saying thanks.

In reading the translation of this press release, I am left with tons of questions and lots of curiosity.  Just how does Korea think she will honestly, transparently and fruitfully fulfill on her words.  All these services outlined, who will do this work?  What will their biases be? There aren’t enough social workers in Korea to meet all these demands.  My own experience in social work school and talking to my fellow Korean international students, not a one was going back to Korea to provide clinical services, nor had much interest in child welfare issues.  None were curious about adoption, family work, family preservation or institutionalization.  Those who expressed interest were not going back to Korea, they were staying here to get more training and do clinical work here in English.

I am left wondering if we really think we will get all that is promised in this document?  Are we setting ourselves up?  The Hague Convention does little to address the growing need for full post-adoption services.  We can’t even hold our own country accountable for the patchwork quilt we call PAS.  Dare I join in the celebration when all I could do was sigh a sad sigh?  The group of adoptees in Korea pales in comparison to the tens of thousands overseas.  For most it remains an impossibility to go to Korea, look at their records and gain cultural competence.  For most, the journey of understanding their adoption must be done in the context of living overseas.  Organizations like the Overseas Koreans Foundation has dismantled the ability for Korean Adoptee organizations to seek funding for their work.  If such a foundation doesn’t recognize Korean adoptees as overseas Koreans, then this new statement is useless to me and countless others who cannot or will not live in Korea and consider themselves Korean Americans.

If search and reunion and access to full files by US agencies remain inconsistent, how do I expect to trust a country to be their word when they consistently fail to respond to an adoptee sitting across the table from them in tears asking for more information?  Taking these records away from the agencies in Korea means that bureaucrats will be the gatekeepers of this invaluable information?

All of this boils down to money.  Is there enough money for PAS, family preservation and subsidies to increase aid to unwed women who want to parent their children?  Will PR really work to raise the numbers of domestic adoptions?  Ratifying the Hague will not change the antiquated system of educating and supporting children adopted domestically.

There is one glaring omission in this translation.  What will happen to the children still in care, in orphanages, in foster homes, in crisis from being separated from their families.  I would like to believe this statement by the Ministry of Health and Welfare is more than just making amends for the past, but also looking at a way to fundamentally change the way Korea views international adoption, domestic adoption and child care now and in the future.  There will always be vulnerable children.  There will always be a need for adoption and a system that responds to the need to care for children not in their families of origin.  Anecdotally, I am seeing older children adopted from Korea and the amount of services and assistance families need to care for them is mounting.  These are not children that Korean families are willing to adopt.

I acknowledge the Ministry for a beautiful document with words of promise and an attempt to meet the demands of adult adoptees seeking change.  Included is the step forward toward ratification of the Hague Convention, something that I think South Korea is long overdue in pursuing.  But like the Hague, we have come to see that no one document will change the perception of how adoptions should be conducted or how the records of the children soon to be adults, whose lives fundamentally change from adoption, should be preserved or honored.  Now many years later, we in the US have come to realize that that there remain many more concerns and still children in questionable adoptive homes with more in-care waiting for a change in their future.  But if the simple acknowledgement was what we needed, then I suppose this press release is a great first.

I realize all of this sounds like I have a case of “Monday morning quarterbacking.”  I am not in Korea challenging, toiling and advocating.  I fully realize the sacrifice it takes to do that and I selfishly covet my life here as a mother (then a social worker) just living life.  But I am not idly wanting either, waiting for others to do the work for me.  I hope these words will penetrate in some small fashion as my peers move forward in seeing these promises come to action.

I am taking this goodwill seriously though. For the likes of Jane Jeong Trenka to believe this is great, then I am willing to stay engaged but not feeling so generous with my thanks.  My soju is still in the fridge.

Boxes

Boxes.  I have been thinking alot about boxes these past few weeks.  Boxes to transport my food so I won’t lose it with a loss of power.  Boxes for toys, diapers and sheets to give to others.  Boxes to store my boys’ treasures.  Boxes (rather circles) to pick the next President.  Been a busy few weeks.

The box that has been staying with me though, has been Pandora’s.  Her box has been quite troublesome lately.  It is so bittersweet to realize that without the pain, there can be little in the way of true joy and I struggle to make sense of the idea that oftentimes in adoption, this paradox exists time and time again. Opening the adoption box opens up a mine of ills, loss, grief, black holes, unexplainables and endless questions.  It can open up the inner workings of our mind that remained dormant for decades, open our eyes to an alternate reality that we cannot ever make sense of and disease our heart with pining.  I would love to think that having my birthmother in my life has quelled the pinings, but most of the time, I am reminded of all I missed, quelling little of all of the above.

More personally, my big boy had a school project that involved putting his short history on this earth into a box to show his classmates from whence he came.  In the creating of this history box, we went through a bunch of pictures and artifacts for his choosing.  I had his birth certificate and was acutely aware that mine was missing in the collective.  There are thousands of his baby photos and of mine, there are none.  He had a tangible face to view going back three generations that I could not contribute to.  And yet, I am grateful for what I was able to give him.  I loved doing this project with him.  He was making his history box, I was making history for myself along with him.

You see, the history of a child used to be based on a tree concept.  A linear concept with roots that an adopted child could not fill and branches that remained nameless.  Very frustrating, humiliating and extremely lacking.  I am thrilled my son’s school is progressive enough to think out of the box instead.  P did a poetic job of choosing photos of his brother, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins all to be pasted on the outside of his box.  Inside, he saved it for himself – sonogram photo, newborn hat, baby pictures among other things.  He surrounded himself with love from family and nestled himself inside.  Lovely.  I cried. Among the photos were my Umma, my brother, my referral photo and me in Korea way back when.  There was one photo he chose to include that stopped me a bit short.  It was of me with my orphanage siblings outside of the orphanage in 1976.  I don’t know why he chose to include it, but it was amazing to see it there.  My history was included, embedded into his.

While Pandora’s box created ills for generations to come, my legacy of loss ends with me but not my history.  P honored my past in such a beautiful subtle way, as one of many things that make him HIM.  The joy of creating my family has given me immeasurable happiness, something I treasure and never take for granted given the empty box I have been holding onto all these years.  P will have his own loss and will grief aplenty in his soon to be full life.  I am glad it doesn’t involve loss that undercuts his sense of self too.  P’s Korean name means “broad foundation.”  In looking at his box, I am grateful I could be a part of giving him that foundation.

“Getting it” in two conversations

There is a moment whenever my child gets sick that I say that little prayer to the nebulous, “Please give me his pain. Let me go through the suffering so he won’t have to.”  When I think about mothering, I often find myself in a state of worry.  I worry for my kid in hopes he won’t have to.  That sense of sacrifice feels instinctual, the ultimate show of parental love.  It got me thinking about a conversation with my friend M.  There are times we fill in the spaces of the emotional pie for our children, but it is not our right to inhabit it forever.  Anger, pain, fear are all emotions we hope our children will never feel, but feel they must.  It is our job as the adults in the relationship to be strong enough to absorb those feelings not inhabit them or take up the space where it belongs.  So naturally, my head goes to adoption and how adoption complicates everything, even an innocuous thought about mothering.  M is an adoptive mother and someone I enjoy talking to as she uses great big words with so much enthusiasm I find myself compelled to understand just to keep up my end of the conversation.  Actually, what I love most about M is that she gets me, my rage and translates them into manageable words.  She is even gracious enough to apply theory to my words and feelings making me feel far more educated.  She listens and cheers me on encouraging my words to come out.  So, I guess I would say she gets adoption, my sense of being adopted.  She gives me permission to be mad.  I hope I do that for her too.

Back to the conversation where we get to the occupation of the emotional pie.  Cycling in my head is this thought – I don’t get it when some adoptive parents jump on the advocacy train toward the abolition of adoption or when I see them align themselves with adoptees in order to make amends for their decision to become adoptive parents.  I feel they are taking up space, adoptee space, holding it so their kid won’t.  In my imagination, I find myself elbowing them out of the way objecting to their indignation that adoptions should be done differently.

Fast forward.  Relaying this conversation to a mommy friend and fellow adoptee evolves into the inevitable question, “what do you mean, she gets it?  what does “it” mean when an adoptee lauds an adoptive parent for getting it?”  It feels like there is a certain way to get adoption for adoptive parents.  It is an emotional mine that I praise them for trying to navigate at the same time I am totally calling them out on it.  If adoptive parents get into the anti-adoption movement or get into the self deprecation mode of apologizing for adoption and the industry they benefited from, does that mean they get it?  Or are they just inhabiting that angry place so their child won’t be able to, making no room for the child to be enraged and turn on his adoptive parents like every other child must in order to be free to become his own person? When an adoptive parent “gets it”, what does that entail?  How do we know?  What does that look like?

Does getting adoption mean there needs to be an act of contrition?  Are we waiting for an apology for doing THE DEED?   I know I am oversimplifying the complicated, but it is precisely the complicated I wish more people would sit with when talking about adoption once you spend a moment to ponder all the moving parts.  When I see adoptive parents taking the helm to stop corruption in adoption, there are times I feel like it is a step into the place of the adopted.  I take issue with the idea that to adopt and fully embrace the complicated means regret and remorse that leads to placating those of us who are angry with our situation.  I have to be frank, it does nothing for me.  I am ok with adoption as a choice and I celebrate with those who decide adoption is how they will create their family.  But something happens when an adoptive parent chooses to see the complicated.  It seems that to embrace the sadness and the loss means they must abandon their personal joy in being an adoptive parent and that is not ok with me.

If I had a fantasy script for what I have been waiting to hear, it would sort of go like this:

After adopting, I gained a different understanding of the nuances of adoption and the many losses that are suffered by adoptees, birth parents and me.  It was only after the aodption did I realize what I never wanted to admit, that adoption was never about you, but it was about me. 

So, while I get the urge to take away the pain, joining me in it all the time can feel equally oppressive.  The reality is that becoming a parent, no matter how, is a great thrill.  To say yes to adoption, is a great leap of faith.  I get that much and I am the adopted one.

PS. if you are seeing links in the post, it is not from me, it’s wordpress.  my apologies if it offends, can’t figure out how to turn it off