Ever stare at one of those prints where you are supposed to cross your eyes and slowly step back and a 3D image is supposed to pop out of the picture? Some people get it immediately and listening to them explain the image to someone who is not seeing it can be alternately humorous and incredibly awkward, especially if you aren’t seeing it either. It feels like the world is conspiring against you and you are a complete idiot for not “getting it!” AND THEN, Eureka! You see you and of course! Why would ANYONE think it would be something else?
The crazy bit about those pictures is that once you see the new image, you can’t undo it, you can’t NOT see it. The picture has changed forever.
I am always thinking about my ongoing obsession with topics of race, identity and adoption. I have been preparing for a presentation to do with a friend and colleague on this topic. We realized that our lives have come full circle and our paths have met again talking about the very same things 10 years ago! I look at my bookshelves and half of the shelves are filled with writings of Asian American authors who through various memoirs, fiction and non-fiction, keep writing about these very same topics.
I have been reading The Accidental Asian by Eric Liu again and Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce. Interesting mix of reading but pretty much sums up where my head is lately. Always seeking a metaphor to explain what my mind’s eye experiences, I liken staring at one of those 3D pictures to conversations on race, identity and adoption. Once you see the pain, the loss, the injustice, the dishonesty, the hypocrisy, the racism, the aggression, the privilege…you can’t not see it and feel it and be changed by it. Once you experience the amazing moment that someone gets how complicated adoption can be just by simply stepping into another persons narrative and holding it, it is impossible to not hope that others will see it too.
I saw some relatives this weekend while they were waiting for another one of their kids to begin the process of launching into adulthood, interviewing for college. Along the way of our lovely coffee, we got to talking about adoption. I love these relatives. They are curious, witty, brilliant and always loving to me. Someone they know is adopted and at the age of 50something, has been found by his birthmother. His birthmother never married, never had any other children and was beginning to be described as a bit strange. His children have a hard time relating to her and while they call her “grandma” they are perplexed by her oddity and cold ways. Didn’t I think that was odd? Didn’t I wonder why this woman went to great lengths to find her son only to be so cold and distant? No, I said. I didn’t think it was odd. I began to use words like shame and grief. I suggested that for her, I wonder if time has stood still? She might have searched, but perhaps her grief has morphed to grieving the past AND the present. Perhaps she doesn’t know how to convey warmth, never having felt entitled to show those emotions to her one and only child? And now her grandchildren?…”Oh, I never thought of it that way…”
Onto the next story of how adoption has hit their lives, this time of someone young and in college and adopted. He has been found by his birth sibling and has now learned that his birthparents actually got married and he has full siblings. Wow! How crazy is that. Facebook found his birth family but not of his choosing. How must THAT be like? To be found? Well, I was found too…I have to say, I hope he has lots of support and stability around him, he is in for one very interesting ride. But I wonder if he knows he can create boundaries, can say no, can opt to put them at arms length…at least while he is still trying to figure himself out, as he is not yet a grown man still on the path of creating his own identity. “Oh right…you’ve got a point there.”
That moment, when the conversation goes from interesting anecdote to questions to a quiet, “Ohhh”…is that the moment that the 3D picture comes into focus? Has the image created change in perception?
This is all in the course of one conversation and while the work I do generates a fairly higher percentage of these stories for my ears, I am reminded that the perception of adoption, about search and reunion, about birthmothers, about class and culture have felt more and more like I am seeing one image and they are seeing another. I do not mean to insult, nor be hyperbolic in my claim that this feels like a burden in any way, but I am struck by how there can never be a casual conversation around these topics with me. But I struggle to find the right inviting words to stress just how desperately I want others to see what I see.
It is as important to have these conversations as it is for me to talk about the latest weather phenomenons, the latest credit card breach and what my kids will be doing for the summer holiday. It is essential for me in my hope that at the end of the conversation, there will be another person who will be moved to educate, correct, validate or invalidate their next chat with someone else. I am in the business of collecting allies, fellow seers of the 3-dimensional sides of adoption.
In reading Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce, I started doing what I usually do, flagging pages and writing down quotes I didn’t want to forget. After the first chapter, I stopped. It was getting ridiculous. Ms. Joyce has way too many noteworthy quotes. I realize I have been in this work for a very long time since she mentioned just about everyone I knew or hear of in the field. It has been scary and oddly satisfying to read that this person, a non-triad member, someone who had so little personal connection to adoption, sees my community the same way. She sees the underbelly of adoption, the business of it, the ethical quagmires, the conflicts of interests and the suffering of the children who grow up having been pawns, not cherished human beings. Her sarcasm and dry wit is palpable as she relays the messaging of various agencies, church organizations and prospective adopting parents. Reading this book has made me understand that words like “orphan” and “adoption” have becomes so altered these days that I don’t recognize it for what I have always believed them to be. I am beginning to wonder if I have been fooled all along and it is me that needs to re-examine those pictures again.