One day once a year

It’s been nine years since my hair went white, all around the outline of my face.  Where there is hair, pure white. I can remember when it happened.  It was about 2 months into the 3 month visit of my birth mother and brother.  My father-in-law, who notices nothing about me, noticed.  It was then that I knew I had a problem.  Like Rogue in X-men, under extreme duress, her streak of white appeared.  I wish I had such a fabulous streak, that could have looked so amazing.  Instead, it washed out my already pale face rendering a more invisible visage.

Lucky for me, my sister is a hairdresser/cosmetologist…color specialist extraordinaire!  She was thrilled to be able to do something for me, to use her magic other than the occasional hair cut.  I was not sure. I liked staying solidly in the lane of my own creation – sans make-up, sans color…all natural.  I was arrogant in my insistence in not giving a shit about what I looked like.

In the recesses of my mind and deep down in the depths of my heart, it was safe to stay in that space of resistance.  It was safe to not give into the self care my face and body were asking of me for fear of burdening any one and seeking anyone’s gaze.  Purposeful invisibility is a cloak I wear pretty much everyday.

Within a year, I began my trips to my sister’s house to get “treated.”  It has turned into a ritual of sister lunches and always loving conversations as we both live in middle age and seek each other as more than family, but good company.

Gaze.  I have fallen in love with this word.  It can sound soft, deliberate, beautiful, indulgent and yet pure.  Every couple of months, someone I love looks at me and approvingly sets me free to be gazed at without embarrassment or shame.  She even takes a photo of her work but always manages to capture me just as I wish to be seen and not what I look away from.

Gaze.  It occurs to me that there is only one person whose gaze continues to make me wildly uncomfortable and seen in a way that no one else sees me.  My birth mother.  She looks at me like she looks through and deep inside.  Our language is not the same because no matter how much I can speak Korean, it is not the language of my feelings, my yearnings or my secrets.  Instead, it is her eyes and her gaze that I avoid to match and thus I miss a lot. How do you put a price on what is lost in translation?  I heard that in a podcast I can’t recall now, but it struck me so true.  I think I continue to pay the price of being lost in translation a lot.

Facebook and it’s memories flashed up that it was indeed 9 years since her visit.  She isn’t living with me now, but, for one day out of the year, we make the purposeful moment to “talk” via kakaotalk.  The birthday. The real one, not the fake one.  The only one that is burned in her memory and her body.  It is the one time in a year she writes me first, she initiates.  This year, I am acutely aware of my lack of enthusiasm to talk to her.  Over 20 years in reunion and I am still finding new emotions in this relationship.

You see, she initiated contact about a year ago and not on my birthday and so out of her character, or at least the character I have known all this time.  She messaged me with a request to send her something. It was an innocuous ask, not unreasonable and definitely doable. I figured out a way to buy myself some time. And then she asked again 6 months ago and I still didn’t do it. What the hell is wrong with me? Sending her money is harder than what she really wants; hours of labor to earn it and asking others to help me wire it.

She wants something of mine; something of mine that she can wear and have me with her all the time. So simple.  So thoughtful.  So sentimental. An adoptee’s dream situation I suppose.

I’m not mad at her. I’m annoyed.  Her passivity and pain give me anguish and compels me to always look away.  This is the Umma I have been living with. This Umma responds to every call and every message with lots of “I’m sorry” messages and tons of “I love you” texts afterwards.  So her asking for something of mine has left me bewildered and completely not compassionate.  Very out of character of me.

“No” is not a word that pops out first from my mouth. Like water, I have a tendency to flow around, through, against adversity. A phone call, a lunch date, a reference, a resource, a question; I  will always figure out a way to say “Yes.”  The calendar is color coded to make sure no one overlaps or is forgotten.  So what IS my problem?

Perhaps the problem is that this long standing relationship has had no real ability to grow.  Each engagement feels like a reset.  The mother, the adult, in me clutches my heart as I know she thought her kid disappeared without a trace. But the primal 4 year old in me says, “I’m the one who was lost!”  And from there, the control of give and take has remained 4 years old.  I am in action toward this relationship when I want to be and on my terms.  The sending of gifts, money, text messages and photos…on my terms.  The request assumed something had changed in the dynamics of our relationship and I was not paying attention.  We are IN a relationship which means there should be an exchange.  She is right to ask of me…which means then I can ask of her?  She sees me as her daughter and AS her daughter, she can say anything to me with entitlement and without hesitation.  Does this mean I can do the same?  Is that what is going on now? Is that why I am annoyed? A new emotion that invites entitlement and position in a relationship? We are IN a relationship and I need to wake up before it is gone.

This year’s birthday wish ended with:
Umma – Send me messages from time to time, I like it.  It’s fun,  It makes me feel close to you.
Me – Who?  Me?
Umma – Yes
Me – ok

And just like that, we are entering a new phase of this very protracted reunion. While my hair is only going to get whiter and my body is showing signs of age, my 4 year old heart is still skipping along trying to catch up with my Umma.

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Funny Mommy

I am having a new relationship with humor.  I would like to believe I always had a sense of humor.  I am forever faithful to Ellen Degeneres and her TV show.  Since so many other people watch her, I believe I am in good humor company.  But now, I am also loving Key and Peele and Hari Kondabolu.  The whole Korean SNL ‘scandal’ is still brewing in my head all these weeks later.  I get fixated on things I don’t understand.  This usually means when I am feeling inconsonant with those who I feel are part of my community, my cohort, my allies.  The immediate first check is to figure out what is wrong with me? Too insecure to blame the entire group of “others”, I am still wondering what went askew.

Thank you, Key and Peele, you relieved me of my stress.  What timely coincidence that the week after all that went on over there in Korea, TIME magazine’s cover had these guys on and they wrote a brilliant piece on humor.  Rather, they encouraged “Make Fun of Everything”.  They wrote, “To not make fun of something is, we believe, itself a form of bullying. When a humorist makes the conscious decision to exclude a group from derision, isn’t he or she implying that the members of that group are not capable of self-reflection? Or don’t possess the mental faculties to recognize the nuances of satire? A group that’s excluded never gets the opportunity to join in the greater human conversation.”

It’s the last sentence that rang loudest for me.  Forever feeling like an outsider here in America and in Korea, the last thing I wanted was to find out my very temperament predestined me to being excluded from laughing too.  Grown ups are terrible at laughing.  We get embarrassed, red faced and try our damnedest to muffle it.  But hang around kids and they seem completely incapable of muffling anything.  They laugh at the same thing over and over again.  Bathroom sounds can get a group of 9 year old boys in peals for nearly an hour! Something happens, perhaps when the greater community around them, their peer group, begins to influence behavior, and all of that stops.  Humor becomes compartmentalized just like everything else.  As an adoptee, I think we have a bit of wickedness in our humor.  Besides the obvious misunderstandings of our names and faces, we can be pretty snarky about our birth families and our adoptive families. I wish we could share some of that humor out there too.  I don’t believe us to be “hothouse flowers”, but our self-reflection can go so far deep that it can get really dark in there.

I can’t honestly tell you how my laughter sounds.  However, whenever I am with my Umma, I listen hard for her laughter.  We have similar voices but only when speaking Korean.  So laughter is hard to come by when our senses of humor are bound by language, both literally and culturally.  Thank goodness for the kids, their antics drew her out and I have discovered that she has a lovely soft ring to her laugh.  Time and life has taken the deep belly snorting laugh, but she laughs.

So I am doing my best to laugh more, to find things funny and take in the fickleness of humor.  It must be working because I think I got the best Mother’s Day gift.  My dear husband decided to give me my own Mother’s Day a week early so I won’t need to share it with the other mothers of the family and lose myself.  He asked the boys what they love about me, how nice and embarrassing right?  My G just loved that I am always there for him….good diplomatic answer.  He quickly chimed in though when his big brother did the hard work of finding a great compliment.  P said, “I think Mommy is funny.”  WHAT?  I stand by my conclusion that my children are THE source of unconditional love. That one sentence is my proof.  My children think I am funny.  Laugh out loud, giggling, snickering, whispering, all of it.  They get my sarcasm, which can be pretty sharp at times and I am beginning to get a taste of my own medicine…and still they love.  I get the eye roll and quivering lip with tears emerging when I have gone too far and still each day ends with, ‘I love you more.”  They say women will fall for a guy who makes them laugh over many other external factors.  This woman has fallen for the two emerging men who laugh at her.

To my Mothers, to your Mothers, near and far…Happy Mother’s Day!  May it be filled with laughter!

Thank you

As a parent, I am always listening for politeness, especially in my own children.  It’s interesting to see who of my kids’ friends remembers to say “thank you” and I know I am not the only one keeping a mental tally of the ones who do or not.  I try and remember to say “thank you” often.  My big boy recently asked me why I say thank you to the maintenance man/superintendent of our apartment complex.  I reminded him that this man, who works seven days a week, spends most of his time cleaning and tending after a whole lot of people, us included.  He is the reason our lights work in our building hallways and that the leaves and snow are cleared in our parking lot.  It reminded me of something my Aunt told me when I asked her the very same question as she was picking up dirty towels at the spa where she worked.  My Aunt lives in Hawaii.  While it would seem she lives in paradise, that paradise has been decimated due to hurricanes and other natural elements many times.  Each time, the residents of her island work hard to create paradise again for all those of us who go to escape life.  Hawaii is life for my Aunt and when she got a job after months of not working, due to a disastrous hurricane that left most resorts and hotels flattened, she was grateful.  So she said thank you to every customer who dropped a towel on the floor because it meant she had a job.  I will never forget her simple, matter of fact way of expressing it too.  “Thank you”…it was so humbly and honestly coming from her each and every time.

The only time I get a bit sketchy on the gratitude thing is in the context of my adoption. Growing up adopted, I had a tendency to itch when I heard people tell me that I should be grateful I was adopted. Gratitude is a hard pill for me to swallow in the context of how I got to where I am.  I have a tendency to feel grateful with shame all at once.  But I wonder if my allergy to gratitude permeates other areas of my life? We don’t have to be grateful to be adopted, we shouldn’t be made to feel grateful for anything that every other human being seems to have an inalienable right to have and it does not have to remove gratitude from the other aspects of our lives. And yet, if I were really being honest with myself, there is one area I fail to be truly grateful.

Today is my real birthday, the one that my Umma acknowledges.  I woke up to a message from my brother and it was lovely.  He is happy today too.  He has found love in his life and I am so grateful.  I am grateful to the woman who has said yes to him and has taken him as the full package, meaning Umma included.  Forever the big sister, I had to grill him, much to his amusement.  It felt nice, natural, real. Grateful.

As I think about the day I was born, my thoughts of Korea are never too far.  Today, I am grateful to Korea and to many of my “people.” This is not an organic sentiment that comes out easily for me.  Truth is, my place in Korea, my sense of pride of being Korean, my understanding and misunderstandings of Korea were not created in a vacuum.  What I took away from being in Korea recently were not the great conversations I had with other adoptees.  I actually had very few of those.  Instead, it was the conversations and time spent with the Korean Koreans who worked so hard to put the Gathering together for my fellow adoptees and me.  While I don’t deny that the adoptee organizations worked HARD to organize and mobilize, there were Korean Koreans who dealt with the sponsors who only spoke Korean; sponsors and politicians whose perceptions of adoptees prejudiced the way they manipulated the money they were willing to spend, who demanded changes to the itinerary, who wanted certain speakers removed, who wanted many many things.  There were the Korean Koreans who woke up earlier than anyone else roaming the hallways to make sure everything was set up correctly, that there was enough food, that the bus came on time, that the drivers were compensated appropriately.  There were those who waited patiently for participants who showed up 30 minutes past the allotted time, who stood on line with us to navigate food orders, ticket purchases, all the meanwhile assuring that Korean hospitality was presented with a smile.  I humbly thank the Korean Koreans who struggled to speak only English to us to make sure we got everything we needed, wanted, demanded and yearned for.  I thank the Korean people for showing me their pride and love for their country.  My heart filled with pride and love too as I know I am of these people.  I thank the many Korean people who complimented my earnest attempts to speak Korean.  I nearly bursted with childish boastfulness knowing I was understood and praised.

In Korea, we need other non-adopted Koreans to not just be our allies.  They must at times, many times, be our voices too.  They do this with the same level of passion, anger and insistence we would.  We speak about needing allies in the adoption community – adoptive parents, birth parents, non adoptees, politicians, service providers.  Yes, we need them.  But, for the many of us who hunger to claim our birth culture and identity, we could not do it without the gracious, reluctant, confused and overwhelmed fellow citizens of our birth country.  I admit great impatience and frustration in learning the “Korean way” and am embarrassed at the many temper tantrums I throw in having to explain and explain why we must be in Korea, seek Korea and learn the Korean way. I admit to thinking “screw the Korean way, I am American, and this is just untenable!” I admit to being childishly angry that I can’t understand and just go with the flow as the Koreans would. Deep down, I suffer from envy cause I want to fit naturally and with ease. But in the meantime, I must express gratitude. I need those Koreans to do what I cannot and at times, will not.

So tonight as my birth day is dwindling down, I say thank you. Kamsahamnida!

unmyeong

It seems every time I am in a hotel for an adoptee event, there is some correlation with the Korean War.  Once again, I walked in the lobby to see men in uniform commemorating the armistice of the Korean War.  Even a coffee at a neighboring hotel, I find the one set of seats next to a group of veterans from England talking story with each other.  Curious “unmyeong” or destiny?  No matter, it has not dampened one minute the celebratory nature of IKAA’s gathering.

Admittedly, my participation in the gathering events are peripheral in nature.  I am here with my kids, so I am out and about most of the time walking a ton without really thinking about what is going on back at the hotel.  My boys have made friends with another family with boys their age with the same obsession for Minecraft and card games.  The only difference is that they are from the Netherlands.  I am always amazed at the lack of ceremony stood on the fact that verbal communication is troubling.  My big boy pulled out a set of Top Trump cards and for the next hour, they were all hunched over sitting under the hot humid sun playing cards and trying to navigate the point system without the aide of a common language.  Of course, our crazy American school system lags behind in learning other languages and with a year of English under his belt, the oldest one at 10, managed just fine.  Then again, Minecraft has its own language which none of us adults seem to understand at all.   They enjoyed each other so much we went swimming all together after our day trip without skipping a beat.  Unmyeong.

Meanwhile, we adults are completely dependent on English no matter where the adoptee was raised.  So thankful for that personally.  However, it is the Korean that is giving some of us trouble.  For our first family excursion out, some of us brought our birthfamily members along for the day.  Despite the many looks from the other Korean Korean people who knew full well we were not natives, our birthmothers, sisters, brothers, cousins, neices and nephews blended right in without fanfare.  It was lovely despite the awkward silences and broken Korean/English passing through.  Even when my Umma was living with us for three months in NY, we didn’t get to spend this kind of quality time.  She watched the shoes while the boys waded in the water, she fanned the boys to cool them from the heat, she gossiped with me about her thoughts on how much to push my brother to get married.  I find I am not so prickly this time around.  Language is less of an issue this time, but I think I am just getting used to her as well.  So far so good.

Of course, you put a group of adoptees together and then find our kids get along nicely, we start to talk and share our stories.  It is never lost on us that our lives have had odd destinies.  I could have been Dutch and she could have been American.  Our birth parents are not different in their thinking.  My Umma thought I went to Europe and another adoptee’s birthfather thought she was sent to the United States.  Unmyeong.

What has happened over the last day has been filled with many wonderful memories for my children already.  They made friends, they have eaten quite a lot of bulgogi and while they miss their puppy in New York seem to be just fine knowing they are going to be in Korea for more days.   For now, Lotte Hotel is home.

Tonight, George and I got to go out for a spell and have that drink we rarely get to have alone.  Umma was happy to stay in the room with our sleeping babies.  Lovely.

Butterflies

What’s that saying, “not my first rodeo?”  This is not my first time to Korea, not my first long plane ride with young children.  There are no firsts for this go-around.  There is a full itinerary, there is a plan.  So, what’s the apprehension?  Why still the butterflies?

I have been going back and forth with my Umma about our pending trip.  There is nothing new about it particularly and yet thinking about seeing her makes me anxious.  Being with her has all the potential to make me feel euphoric and unfulfilled all at once.  Our last conversation was so ordinary in the way one talks to a parent as we planned and stated our thoughts on how much time we will get together.  While I can bask in the simplicity of how ordinary this phone call was, it always feels like a first.  Every time there is movement closer to each other and every hang up makes me sigh in apprehension that nothing will go as I hope…one step forward, two steps back.

Me – So, you will come to the airport?
Umma – Yes.
Me – So, you will come to the hotel on Monday and stay with us till Thursday?
Umma – No. I will go home. Your brother needs dinner.
(Pause. Insert eye roll and thoughts of, my brother is a grown man, I am SURE he can figure dinner out for himself.)
Me – What? Your home is so far from Seoul, that will be way too hard for you!
Umma – It’s ok. I will be fine. I am healthy and strong and it will not be so hard.
Me – But, I got the biggest room for us at the hotel, there is a separate bed for you too. You must stay with us. I don’t know when I will be in Korea again. I thought we would see a lot of each other this time.
Umma – We will talk about it when we are together, ok?

“We will talk about it when we are together…” Makes sense. We will see each other and we will hash this out. So ordinary. What every parent would say in a situation like this. I just need to be in the same air space and all will be sorted. Of course, there are many other grown children who have moved far from home and are petulant when they realize that those who remained are the primary thought.

There is nothing ordinary about this. Because underneath it all is my inference that I am, yet again, the third wheel, the one who is not part of the family. Never mind that it is taking everything I have to make this trip possible. Of course, I have a right to demand her time! Or do I? The seesaw goes back and forth. I am not worthy of her time. I am the one who disappeared. I am just a visitor in her life. I can’t trump my brother. He is her rock, her stability, her priority, her family.

The head starts to rationalize. I know it is absolutely bizarre for Umma to want to be in the company of me and several hundred other adoptees in a hotel room. There is no way she wants to meet other birthmothers, see other women walking with their adopted children. She has no interest in being in the company of these other women. My work in adoption and my identification with the adoptee community is wildly uncomfortable for her. She does not want to hear about my plans to visit the orphanage. I am not an orphan to her.  She is not an intrusive person, so it just makes sense she wants us to have our alone time and rest without her.  Further rationality ensues when I know I will probably be grateful she isn’t on top of me.  Our room will be a safe cool haven for the long hot days that I will be out and about. Jetlag has no predictable pattern so my kids will be up at all weird hours.  I will want to walk around in my pajamas and not have to worry about her comfort.

The heart is not so rational.  It starts to worry and mild panic begins.  This may be the last time I see her.  The next time I go to Korea will be when she is sick or dying or dead.  I am not typically a pessimist, just haven’t figured out how to turn my skin right side out so the tougher part is shielding my heart from disappointment, rejection, silence, apathy and so little time to cultivate a happy memory of her.  I am anticipating the end before I have begun.  What if this is the last time I see her? The little girl has not caught up with this grown woman.  Almost twenty years in reunion and I am still stuck in a time warp.

This will all go by so fast.  May my feet stay on the ground long enough to keep me tethered to the present.

20 years, 10 days

Young Jin, Soo Mi, Sang Hoon, Yong Hoon, Il Nam, Won Chan…

I’m going to Korea.  Two weeks and the countdown has begun.  The gifts have been purchased, made and assembled.  The packing still needs to be done.  A good friend just moved her entire home, surely, I can pack our life for a ten day trip!  I’m nervous, excited, anxious and really hoping that everyone will enjoy this trip.  The boys will be old enough to remember and make memories of their own.  I hope the seed of good will be planted so they will want to make this exodus again and again.

This trip was made possible by a cooking contest run by Also-Known-As.  Who knew my culinary skills in Korean fare would win me a ticket to Korea?!  I am pleased to inform that I have mastered yet another great dish since then but all the while creating a list of food I want to eat in Korea.  Another adoptee I haven’t seen in over a decade just recently asked me, what’s on my list of things to eat?  Very important question.  A chuckle came over me because inside, I knew, only another adoptee would ask such a question.  Of course it was all street food, poor man’s food, I like to call it.  I want to eat my way through Seoul.

A casual remark by George reminded me that I am going back to Korea 20 years from the time I first went alone, with two large suitcases, to my orphanage to do some “good work” and came back a changed person permanently.  It has been 20 years since I last saw some of the people I mentioned above, my orphanage siblings – children then.  Some of them have stayed in touch, others I will see for the first time since we last said goodbye.  Some married, had children, some not yet.  All of them, grown ups.  None are connected to their first families and are connected to each other like family with their shared experience of being an “orphanage kid.”  As is the usual case, I call one and then what follows is a series of phone calls or emails from others.  This time, Kakaotalk is the medium and Hangul the language of choice.  20 years has made my Korean much more user friendly and I can’t wait to see them all, their spouses and their children.  The central point of meeting is the Lotte Hotel.  I am anticipating many late night lobby gatherings.

My Umma will be with me.  She is coming to stay with us while we are in Seoul.  I got the biggest room possible for all of us to be together.  It has been over three years since I last saw her.  I call her pretty regularly now.  She is retired from working at the hospital as an aide and depends on my brother financially and they remain just the two together.  She takes aquatic classes, watches a ton of TV, sees some friends and goes to church.  She says she is well.  I will see for myself.  She got a phone line in her apartment now, so I am guessing things are looking up.  It strikes me funny that this reads like I know her now.  What an ordinary list of things to say about one’s mother, right?  Well…then, there is this thought too – I will not be visiting her home, I will not get to see her living arrangements.  I never do.  So yes, we are still working on our relationship 19 years later.  It will be good to see Umma.  But, I am anxious to see my brother.  I can’t wait really.  I just want a big hug from him.

Truth is, since I won that free ticket to Korea, I have been planning for this trip.  Months and months of thinking about and preparing for just 10 days.  The anticipation is at fever pitch right now.  Trying to tamp down my expectations but really really happy all at once.  I am going to Korea to see family, my family.  This is a family reunion.

I am seriously hoping Umma will babysit the boys so that George and I can take in Korea for some evening fun.  I don’t easily associate Korea with “fun.”  I have never gone to just be in Korea.  So, I guess what I am looking forward to the most is to walk around and be ALL IN.  This time, there is no reason in the world for me to be anywhere else.

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.

practice makes permanent

My little one has gone off to first grade!  I thought I would be used to this leaving and growing up thing, but it still tugs at my heart.  No tears this year, so I must be growing up.  After all, I did this before a couple of years ago.  But the thoughts are still there.  I cannot imagine my G going off to another country at this age let alone to his own big boy bed next door to sleep through the night!  From the second G was born, he didn’t know a single day without Mommy right by his side and well within his sight.  Like his big brother, G went to work with me often and only after a pair of Buzz Lightyear wings years afterwards did he finally feel ready to leave my bed!

My boys love being home.  Even when they are having the time of their life, they need little encouragement when it’s time to go home.  They have yet to agree to a sleepover to a friend’s, even Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  They have no qualms about letting me know they want to go home.  They have no need to adjust their ways.  They have no reason to adapt to a new situation no matter how impermanent.

I realize comparing what my children are living and what I have lived is like comparing apples and oranges.  By the time I was almost six years old, I had been in the care of at least three different strangers, an orphanage and a Buddhist temple.  There is still the question as to who they all were, I have no memory of names or faces.  By the time I came to America, my birthmother was gone, out of my head.  I made her dead a long time ago.  At what point did she die?  I have no idea.  It pained me to tell her that I thought she no longer existed.  She seemed to get it though.  “You were only a baby, what else were you going to think if you never saw me again?”  It’s not like someone sat me down to tell me what would happen next, where I would go, who I would see or how many sleeps it would be.  I was told to be good, to be caring.  That is all I could remember.

By the time I was almost six years old, I had a lot of practice taking care of my inner thoughts.  I had relegated my fears to dreams.  With practice my smile became permanent.  So by six, I had the wearwithall to take that crazy plane ride and embark on a new journey, no questions asked.  Like many others, I walked into my new home and never looked back.

It continues to be a personal journey to figure out just what I am entitled to.  I had somehow parsed out “entitlement” from the definition of “right” as if they were different.  I keep thinking I have a right to know my past, my absent years.  But I stop just at the point of saying I am entitled as if that is too much to ask, too wrong to desire.  As if I could alter the English langauge on my own!

Practice makes permanent.  Still practicing.

Dear Dan Savage…

Dear Mr. Savage

I know nothing of your famous columns about sex.  I know you simply as the genius behind the “It Gets Better!” Campaign.  I love it and as a straight, Asian American, international adopted woman, I relate to it.  I even blogged about it here, I hope you get to read it.

It is no secret that you and your husband have adopted a child.  You boldly put it out there (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/11/fashion/sundaystyles/11LOVE.html?pagewanted=all) about the complicated, challenging, loving, heartwrenching task you have of maintaining an open adoption and thereby creating the possibility of a relationship between DJ and his birthmother some day.  As an adopted person, I am not totally comfortable knowing the ins and outs of all that you went through to maintain this relationship, and wonder what DJ might think about the world knowing so much about his birthmother years before he will be able to synthesize it for himself.  Admittedly, I was one of the many readers who could not stop reading it though.  I hope it helped some other adoptive parents out there.

I live in New York and was one of those people glued to the radio when the announcment came out that gay couples could now marry.  I am happily awaiting the day one of my church members and his partner can proclaim their love in marriage.  I have admired how much this issue has galvanized people of all orientations to come together in support of love.

It got me wondering…will the gay community help the adoptee community gain equality too?  As an adoptive parent, you know first hand that your children get an “amended birth certificate” and in places like New York, will never have access to their original birth certificate.  Does your son have an amended birth certificate stating you and your husband as his parents?  I wonder if you see any humor in that piece of paper?  I wonder if you are enraged at the untruthfulness of that document?

So, my question is simple to you and to the many in the gay community. Will you help us?  Will there be room in your hearts for equality for all, including your children?  Would you, and your very public platform, help adoptees around the United States gain equality and help them access their original birth certificates so they too might know who they were born from just like your son?

Thank you so much for your kind consideration.

Sincerely,

adoptionechoes

Mama

I love when my children call me “Mama.”  It feels like Konglish to me – Mom and Umma put together.  It’s Mother’s Day in a couple of days, and I can’t help it, I have to write about mothering in some form.  The truth that no one really admits is that if you are a young-ish mother, that day really is not about you.  It’s about your mother and your mother-in-law.  The senior mothers in your life upstage your role.  It’s as it should be, but nonetheless an adjustment.  Still, I got a preview of the cards the boys made and I am looking forward to seeing them for real.  I am loved….

I realize I am not a very cheerful person the week preceding Mother’s Day. In thinking about mother’s, I am struck that I have two mothers but neither one feels like a mother to me.  English is my native tongue now, and I have not called out “Mom” in a long time.  It isn’t that she isn’t around, but the nature of our relationship at this point in my life is that she is not in my life.  Read between the lines, if you will, I cannot bear to put it out there so publically as to why.  I will not air out dirty laundry.  It hurts, it’s embarrassing, it’s a boundary I do not break, it’s not about adoption and yet it is all about being adopted into my family.  I miss the push-pull of being the daughter of a mother.  I miss saying “Mom” to someone.

So, I have my Umma.  I call her “Umma” but it does not flow, it is not what I am used to.  It is just another word among words I have learned to say in Korean.  But I try.  For the first time in 18 years I called her for emotional support.  I called her just to hear her voice, hear her say my name, the name I never hear but is mine.  I had no words to express my deep feelings, no way of conveying to her how much I needed to hear concern, worry FOR me.  She did answer the phone and tried to insist that I speak my mind.  I blew it.  I knew she could not comfort me so I said nothing.  I have lived my life wishing for such an earnest plea, but admittedly, it was not from her.  I set her up, I know I did.  To call her and cry in silence was mean and incredibly insensitive of me.  Telling her my thoughts would be hell for her and I would be stabbing her again and again with my words.  She cannot undo, she can’t be any more sorry and she doesn’t deserve all this dumping.  But for those two minutes it felt almost good enough.

It’s torture being a mother of any worth.  I think about the myriad of ways I draft a dialogue in my head to reach the very soul of my boys.  Each engagement begins with the perfect scenerio that will elicit their deep thoughts and all the angst in their hearts.  I will prove I am strong enough and warm enough to hold their stress.  Yes, they are only in elementary school, but they are cultivating memories.  The book of their life has begun.  From now on, they remember everything, if only I can figure out what moments will stand out.  Will they be able to recognize that they had a blissful childhood or will they remember the one time I really lost it and went bullistic?  Rather, what will happen in their book that I can neither know about or predict?  Reality check, those dialogues never go as planned.  But damn it, I keep trying.  That’s what good mothers do, right?  They are nosy and ask, goad, beg, plead, bribe, negotiate, yell, grab, clutch, embarrass their children till they break and reveal.  Peace reigns when being mother means I can predict exactly how the rest of the evening will flow, more or less.  Is good enough good enough?

The thing about mothering that gets me is that I will ultimately fail.  I just don’t want to be a dismal failure.  The paradox of mothering is that even on my worst day as a mother, my kids still love me, need me, seek me, can be completely undone by me and get repaired by me.  Of course this connects to being adopted.  Even for us not in our families of origin, this foundation of resilience is the same.

Perhaps then this is a call out to all mothers, the marvelous ones and the shitty ones.  Your kids love you, there is no choice not to.  Spend any amount of time with adopted kids or kids in foster care and all you hear is parental love – the desire for it, the want for it, the security of it, the pain of it, the anger of it, the jealousy knowing they won’t settle for anything short of it.

It’s torture being a mother, but equally torturing being mothered.  I can’t imagine being bossed around by me 24/7.  But the idea that I am all they have has to do.  Reminding myself that discipline is teaching and feeling very unmotherly earlier this week, it ended with a field trip to see the new babies born on a farm and a bus ride with my baby sleeping on my lap.  I don’t know what will hold in the hearts of my boys when they grow up and think of their mama.  I don’t have enough confidence to believe it will be untainted from feelings of disappointment, resentment or fear.  I only hope the love will wash over these feelings enough to make them a little lower on their list of grievances.

Mother’s Day is about showing the love you have your mother.  For us mothers, I hope we will allow ourselves to have that favor returned to us no matter what and in whatever way our children can demonstrate.  Writing this post took me forever, all week actually.  My last break was to request a hug from my little one.  “Are you kidding me?!” he said, “I would never leave you alone!”  Well, it seems that my catch phrases are catching on….one memory in the bank!  I am indeed loved, motherless notwithstanding.