Made up story…

Every night for the last seven years, I laid with my boys to sleep.  Please don’t judge the family bed, for us it has worked amazingly well.  While the bed-hopping still continues, they have been sleeping in their own room, their own bunk for quite some time.  And of course, once resenting the idea of laying there wasting precious alone time, I find myself missing the stories.  I told lots and lots of stories of magic gardens where insects talk, of stars and galaxies far away, of adventures by Toot and Puddle and the great feats of dragon taming two boys P and G would dare to try.  I tried to resist the temptation of morals at the end of the stories, some were just plain fun and silly.  No two stories were alike and I realized I needed to stop when my big boy started to finish the story knowing where I was going.  Despite our conflicting endings and my exasperation at times to “Just go to sleep!” my boys loved ‘made-up story time.’  It has been a revelation to me as I was always told that I was rather boring and unoriginal, gullible and uncreative.  Parenting sure does salve old wounds and old insults.

Of course, there were times when a story got repeated.  The taming of the dragon and saving a town got lots and lots of replay.  The one that got the most replay though was the stories of each of my children’s births.  My first born had a rather dramatic coming into the world and he insists on hearing it far more often than my little guy.  True to form, like all children, they never tire of hearing how important, delightful, hard, dramatic and wonderful their arrival into our family was.

One night, my wise big boy asked me my birth story.  I was dumbstruck.  He had known my Umma and knew she was the woman who gave birth to me.  And he knows I am adopted and have someone else I called “Mom.”  But I could not share with him my birth story.  I don’t actually know it.  It has never occurred to me to ask my Umma.  I would like to say that it was out of protection of breaking an old wound, but I believe the wound is mine, not hers.  I am sure as a mother, she would love to share any dramatic moments of my arrival, but I don’t think I am ready to hear it still.

Instead, I decided to make up my fantasy adoption story.  This is pure fantasy in so many ways, but I know it is a growing reality for many younger adoptees.  I am glad of that.  So, here goes my made-up, fantasy, once upon a time….

Once there was a little girl who came from a far away land.  She loved this land for all it’s smells, music and dancing.  But the little girl wanted very much to be with a family, a mommy and daddy she could call hers forever.

One day, she got on a very big airplane all by herself and landed in a land that she never heard of before.  Standing before her was a man and a lady who said they were her new mommy and daddy and they would be a family forever.  And the little girl was very happy.

But at night, the little girl would cry when she thought of that far away land.  She missed her friends, the smells, the music and most of all the beautiful dancing.  And the little girl was very sad.

Time passed and the little girl soon forgot her far away land and her memories were replaced with new smells, new music and new dancing.  And the little girl was very happy.

Soon, the little girl grew up and she was a lady herself.  She thought of that land far away and wondered if it was still there.  So, she got on a very big airplane all by herself again.  When she arrived, the young girl was welcomed by the wonderful smells, music and dancing she remembered from long ago.  At night, the young girl would cry because she forgot so much of her far away land and she wondered if it was all a dream.  And the young girl was very sad.

Time passed though and slowly the smells began to water her tongue, the sounds again beat in her heart and the dancing would thump through her body like a beautiful full drum.  And the young girl was very happy.

But at night, when she was trying to sleep, she missed the smell of her mommy and the musical sounds of her daddy.  And the young girl was very sad.

So, the young girl decided to return home to share her story with her mommy and daddy.  Her mommy and daddy were so glad to have her home again and hear of her adventures.  And the young girl was very happy.


It seems like a very innocent question, “when’s your birthday?”  and yet, for me, this always causes a hiccup.  When I met my birthmother, it was then I learned that I had another date.  Not to be confused by the whole, one year older in Korea or the Lunar New Year making one a year older too…I have two dates.  On all my legal documents I have one full date and on my Korean family registry, there is another one.  They are only weeks different and the years are the same, so I am not off by much.  Still, it is enough cause for pause.  I usually rattle off the legal one, the one that Americans acknowledge.  In doing this though, it makes me a bit sad to know that the life I had in Korea, the one that I chase after in my heart and mind, simply does not exist.  So, some years ago, I decided to celebrate both – the legal one to everyone, the real one with my little family.  It feels like a lovely little secret, and when someone close to me remembers it, it makes my heart jump with a thrill.  To know me, is to know the day I was really born.  I like my real one more because it is the same month as my boys and because I share it with someone special in my husband’s family.  But I realize I leave a lot of people confused and annoyed.  After all, a birthday is to be celebrated not meant to cause confusion nor become attached to a sordid story of how I got here in the first place.  No one needs to know the reason for the pause, just spew it out and move on.

I don’t recall being particularly burdened with the notion that the birthday I celebrated for the last few decades was a fiction.  After all, I was born, the same way as every other human being in the world.  I wasn’t hatched or plucked or dropped somewhere.  I remember being in a room full of adoptive parents who all have children internationally adopted with birthdays that too are an act of fiction.  Real tears were shed by these parents as they relayed their personal upset at this.  They all knew when they were born.  They all knew the stories around their birth.  It seemed not knowing the real date was a chasm that could not be bridged between these parents and their children.  In its place, we talked about the date a child was found, the date the referral was received, the day a child became a member of the family, the date the adoption was finalized.  But all of it seemed like bandaids substituted for the missing date of when a child actually came into this world.  It all seemed cruel and yet for so many of us international adoptees, it is a reality.  Some of us find it a narrative burden, others don’t, just another reason to be celebrated and showered with gifts, thank you very much!

There are adoptees who hate celebrating birthdays, who become emotional or temperamental days before and days after the date that is on their papers.  It feels like a black and white reminder that perhaps we didn’t matter, weren’t supposed to be here.  It is a connector to that woman who labored for us to enter the world and just as she can be such a nebulous concept, so too our existence.  For some this is an entitlement befitting everyone else further marginalizing us.  Still others, it’s just a day, nothing particulary special.  I have friends who would consider it blasphemous to forget their day.  It is the only day of the year we share with no one else really.

I have found that over the years, my legal birthdate is getting harder and harder to say outloud.  It feels like I am lying when I say it.  I feel like it doesn’t do justice to the many years of hard work I have earned to know my true identity.  As I have grown to love my Umma, I have grown to love my real birthdate.  Attached to that date is another number, the time I was born.  I LOVE knowing that.  It was the first question I asked my birthmother when we had a moment alone.  She was the only one who was able to give me that information.  More than anything, that mattered to me.

I would love for birthdays just to be happy and lauditory.  But just like everything else in adoption the simple answer to “when’s your birthday?” is “it’s complicated.”

PS. The best part of having two birthdays?  The one that exists nowhere on any of my papers makes for the best pincode or secret password!

낳아준 엄마

1994 –  1975 – 1976 사이 내가 막연하고 불확실한 때의 나의 집이었던, 이 고아원에서  나의 1년간의 봉사가 거의 끝날무렵이다.

나를 낳아준 엄마를 만나기로 한 meeting 에 대한 그날의 일들은  수정처럼 확실히 내마음에 기억된다.   월요일에  언니(고아원에서 아는 큰 언니중의 한 사람인데, 이 곳에서 원장으로 일함)로 부터 전화를 받았다.    언니는 전화를 받았는데, 아주 심상치 않고, 중요하다고 여겼다.    언니는 급하게  말하길 나의 생모가 나를 만나기 위해 이곳으로 오고 있다고 했다.   나는 정말 어리벙벙할 지경으로  놀랐다.   나의 전 생애, 지금껏 살아오면서 ,  나의 생모는 돌아가신줄 믿었고,  난 아버지손에서 자란줄 알았다.   이 것이 내가 나의 부모에게 해드린 얘기고,  지금껏 내가 믿고있는 사실이다.   어린 6살 아이의 생각으로는 엄마를 잃었다는 것을 인정하는 것이 잘 이해가 안됐고, 또 여러 어른들이 내가 엄마와 더 이상 함께할 수 없음을  오만가지 이유로 얘기해줄때, 그것을 믿는것도 힘들었다.

자라면서, 난 나의 생모와  생부를 찾는것을 절대 원하지 않았고,  그것은 어떤 선택의 여지가 없다고 생각했다.   나는 낳아준 부모에 대해  아무것도  아는것이 없어도 절대적으로 만족하고 사는 입양자중의 하나였고, 확실하지도 않은 추측을 해서,  찾을려고 노력할 하등의 이유가 없었다.   내가 하고자 했던 일은,  나를 위해, 한국인 입양자로서의 정체성과 나의 문화적 유산을 되찾으려 애썼지만, 나의 혈통과 가문을 찾으려고 하지는 않았다.   24시간 이내에, 나의 생모가 생존해 있고, 그녀가 3번씩이나 사설 탐정을 구해서 나를 찾으려했음을 알아냈다.   나의 생모는 21년간이나 내가 어디에 있는지를 찾고 있었던 것이다.   내가  나의 생모와의 만남에 대해 어떻게 해야할지, 나의 부모에게 물었을때, 만약 그들이 조금이라도 망설였다면, 이런 일을 결코 일어나지 않았을 것이다.   나의 부모는 정말 기뻐서  나의 생모와의 만남을 정신적으로 격려해 주었다.  나는 2틀 동안이나 어떻게 해야할지 모순되는 감정때문에 안개속을 걸었다.  전혀 이런상황을  확실히  정리할수없는 상태였다.   내가 전부 할 수 있는 일은, 자신의 딸을 찾으려고 계속 노력한 이여자를 위해 만나야 할것이라 느꼈고,  내가 다시 또 한국을 올 기회가 아마 없을지도 모른다는 생각에 만나기로 했다.

같은주 수요일에,  난 냄새나는 생선이 있는 복도를 걸어서 3 층에 있는 방에, 두 여자를 보며 앉아 있었다, 나의 생모와 그녀의 여동생이었다.    나는 아무것도 느낄 수 없었고, 이러한 모든것이 사실이 아니길 바랬다.   난 정말 이 방에서 쏜살같이  바깥으로 뛰어나가 안도의 숨을 쉬고 싶었다.   우리는 열망적으로 기대하는 어떤 사실을 얻기위해  부자연스럽게 앉아  또 한 순간을 기다려야 했다.   나의 생모는 나의 옆에 앉아서 조용히 다른 곳을 쳐다보며 말하길, “아니예요, 이애가 그애가 아닌것 같아요.”   그런다음 , 나의 다리에 상처가 있느냐고 물었다.   왜그래요, 네, 있어요!   나는뜨거운 다리미로 인한 화상으로,  다리에 연한 갈색의 상처가 있다.    난 항상 이것이 고아원에서 생긴것으로 믿어왔다.   나의 이모는 눈물을 터뜨리며, 이 상처가 자기의 잘못으로 인해서 생겼다고 하며, 넘칠정도로 내게 사과하였다.    이모는 그녀남편의 셔츠 다림질을 막 끝내고, 내게 너무 가깝게  앉지말라고 했다.  어쨌든 난 가까이 앉았고,  그러지 말았어야 하는줄 알았지만, 내 스스로 화상을 입고, 그래서 상처가 생기고,  아무런 할 말이 없다.   이 이야기를 나의 부모이외는 아무에게도 한적이 없다.  이것은 마치 눈에서 베일이 벗겨지듯 선명해 졌다.  나는   갑자기 이 두여자가 다르게 보여졌고,  나의 손을 잡고 내 옆에 앉아있는 이 여자를 잘 보려고 했다.   나의 손은 정말 그녀의 손과 닮았다.   난 그녀의 발을 보았다 – 우리는 같은 size다.   나는 그녀의 얼굴을 쳐다보기 시작했는데, 둘이 같은 모양의 귀를 가진것을 알았다.    그녀는 내게 반지를 주었는데,  내게 꼭 맞았다, 그 반지는 언젠가 내게 주려고그녀가 계속 끼고 있었던 것이다.   이 여자가 나와 관련이 있음을 알았을때, 그 깨닳음이  말이 없이도, 나의 가슴속에 아직도  완전한 평정으로 남아있다.

일주일후,  난 이복 남동생을 만났다, 그는 거의 내가 남자같은 모습을 바꿔놓은 것 같은 모습이었다.  우린 금새 좋아하게 됐고,  둘다 환경의 피해자들이다.   그래서 지금 난 남동생이 있다!   친척들도 만났다.  나는 정말 존경하는 나의 할머니도 만났다.    난 나의 할아버지의 사진을 갈망하듯 보고,  그의 눈을 응시하면서, 오래전에 어렴풋이 본것을 기억했다.  주체할수 없는 감정에 술을 마시고 취한 삼촌과도 전화로 통화 하고, 그는 나의 얼굴을 맞대고 보기위해  찾아왔다.   내 마음은 정말 혼란이었다.  난 이 시간 내내,  줄곳 모든 친척들을 기억하려고,  또 나에 관한 그들의 모든 이야기를 기억하려고, 내게 일어난 것들에 대해 그들의 여러 생각을 나누는 것을 기억하려고, 나의 머리는 깨질것 같았다.  아무것에도 내가 연관이 없을지도 모른다.   난 나의 생모를 위로하기위해 계속 바라보았다, 그러나 그녀는 내게 아무런  반응도 없었다.   그녀 엮시 조용했다.   그 순간, 난 나의 노년의 내 자신을 그녀를 통해 보았다 –  극성스러움, 그녀는 차분하고 수수했다;  다른 사람이 주목을 받을때, 그녀는 사라진다.   내가 이런 경향을 그녀로부터 받은 것일까도 생각해 본다.   이 방문의 마지막에, 난 완전히 무너진 상태였다.   정말 그들을 모두 기억하지 못해서 진심으로 미안하고,  절대적으로 중요한 이  찰라에 기억을 잘 못해서 어찌할수 없는 죄송함과 수치함을 느꼈다.   이들이  걱정어리고 진지한 태도로, 조카를 다시 찾고, 손녀, 딸을 다시 찾은 것을 감사하는  가족들을 볼때, 나도 그들처름 함께 그런 마음가짐으로 동참되기를 빌었다.    난 정말 그들에게 말 하수 없는 슬픔을 느꼈고, 나 자신에게는 실망됐다.

그 주말은 나의 생모와 함께 보냈다.   나의 생모와의 만남에서 4 가지의 기묘한 주요 순간들이 꼬투리에 쌓인채 있다.   첫번째,  한국에 있는 동안, 그녀와 함께 지내고, 우리는 함께 잠을 잤다.   그녀의 냄새는 마치 Olay 오일 같이 향기로웠다.   난 그 냄새를 기억하고 있고, 왜 내가 지금까지 그 향의 로션을 선택해 얼굴에 바르는지  잘알고있다.   그 날은 정말 잠을 곤히 잘 잤다.    두번째,  내가 목욕을 하고있는데, 나의 생모가 들어왔다, 그리고  그녀는 때를 밀어주고 싶어했다.   나는 그녀에게 소리를 지르며, 나가라고 했다.   그녀는 날 보고 싶어했다, 나의 전부를.   나는 수치심을 느꼈다.   그녀의 마음을 상하게 한것을 안다.    셋째,  그녀는 내게 한 박스 가득 김을 만들어 주었다,왜냐면 내가 김을 좋아한다는 것을 들었고, 나를 앉히고 내가 아침을 먹는 것을 지켜보고 있었다.   나는 그녀에게 나의 미국 생활에 대해서 듣고 싶은가 하고 물었다, 그녀는 듣고 싶지 않다고 했다.   잠시 침묵이 흐르고, 우리는 서로 아무것도 얘기할 것이 없었다.   넷째, 그녀는 바닥에서 문을 등지고, 학교에 갈  내 동생의 셔츠를 다림질하고 있었다.   나는 문지방에 앉아서 무슨일이든 엄마를 도와주고 싶다고 말했다.  그녀는 아주 조용히 말하길, 내가 너를 마지막 본것이 네가 3살 어린애였는데, 지금 네가 다큰 숙녀가 되서, 그녀는 이 다큰 아이가 누구인지 잘 모르겠다고 말했다.   나는 정말 처절히 엄마에 대해 가슴아팠다.

그 주말동안에, 나는 어느 입양자든지 다들 꼭 알고 싶어하고, 의문스러워 하는 질문을 했다.   왜?   왜,  당신은 날 포기 했나요?   나는, 날 절대 버린것이 아니고,  포기한 것이 아니라는 정말 놀라운 사실을  알았다.   별도로, 나는 나의 생부에  대해, 그의 얘기를 들은 적이 없고, 그는 이미 돌아가셨다.   이것은 나의 생모의 얘기다.    나의 생모와 난 그 당시 상황과, 법과 , 사회 관례의 피해자였다.   나의 생모는 그녀가 24살에 나의 생부를 만났다.   그는 여나므살 엄마보다 아래였는데, 나의 생모를 계속 쫒아다녔다.  그들은 그의 군임무를 마치기전에 결혼했고, 그녀는  어린 나와 함께 생활했다.   나는 나의 생모와 그녀의 가족과 함께 성장했는데,  그래서 나의 조부모, 즉 그녀의 부모에 대한에 대한 기억이 있다.   나는 사랑을 받았고, 춤과 노래를 하고, 그리고 지금은 기억할 수 없는 친척들과 놀던 기억이 있다.   맨 마지막으로, 내가 그들의 집에서 보낸 시간이 머리속에 몇가지 기억으로 내 마음속에  현명하게 사진을 보듯 남아있다.    자동차의 창문이 닫히고,  나는 떠나면서,  나의 조부모님에게 울면서 잘있으라고 손을 흔들던 것을 기억한다.  사실은,  나중에 이 기억의  두사람이 나의 생모와, 할머니였던 것을 알았다.   이런 확실하고 또 혼란스러운 기억이 아직도 날 괴롭히고 있다.  나의 생부가 군대에서 제대후 돌아온후 그는 더 이상 나의 생모와의 결혼생활을 원치 않았고, 이혼후 바로 나는 그와, 그 가족에게로 갔다.  그 당시 한국은 이혼하면, 아이는 아버지 쪽에 보호되는예 였고, 아이를 볼 수있는 방문도 허락이 안되고, 함께 부모가 합동으로 아이를 보호하는 법도 없었다.   어쨌든, 나의 생부는  비열한 사람은 아니였고,  나의 생모가 나와 함께 시간을 보낼 수 있게 기회를 만들어 주었고, 그녀는 2 번 정도 나와 함께 할 수있는 시간을 가졌다.    그녀는 이러한 방문도 곧 없어질거라는 것을 알고 있었다, 왜냐면 나의 생부는 말한대로  약속을 철저히 지키지 못하는 사람이란 것을 알고 있었기에.   그의 인생에 새 여자가 생겼고, 그 여자는 생부에게  모든것을 어렵게 했다.   나의 생모의 마지막 방문은 재래시장에서 였는데, 엄마가 내게 빨간 구두를 사주셨다, 그것은 내 나이에 비해, 내게 너무 큰것이었는데, 내가 졸라서 엄마가 마지 못해 응해 주셨다.   이것이 내가 세살 반되던때, 그녀의 나와 함께한 마지막 기억이다.

그 얼마후, 나의 생모는 나의 생부에게 찾아와 날 만나게 해달라고 애원했는데, 그녀는 더 이상 나의 생부가 날 데리고 있지 않음을 알았다.   몇달간의 수소문과 적어도 3개정도의 그녀가 알고있는  어린이의 집 을 찾아가, 나의 고향인 인천에서 멀리 떨어진, 서울의 어느 고아원에  내가 있음을 알아냈다.   그녀는 몇번이나 고아원을 찾아와 나를 돌려달라고  부탁했으나, 고아원 직원은 그녀를 돌려보냈다.   그녀는 급히 서울에 달려와, 고아원의 원장을 직접 만나기 위해 몇시간이고 기다렸다.   그찰라,  몇가지 소식을 들을수 이었다 – 내가 입양으로 보내졌다고.   그녀는 내가 엄마에 대한모든 것을 다 잊었노라는 말을 들었고, 그냥 엄마 자신의 인생을 살라는 말을 들었다.   나의 생모는 내가 미국으로 입양된 사실을 전혀 모르고 있었고, 그래서 사설 탐정을 고용하여, 내가 유럽에 있는지를 알아보게 했다.   그녀는 가사일로  돈을 모아 21년간,  3 사람의 다른 탐정인을 고용하였다.    어쨌든, 고아원에 연관된 어느 인자한 스님이 , 그동안 나의 미국 부모님이 보낸  편지와 사진을 계속 나의 생모에게 알려주고 연락하고 있었다.   나의 생모는 내가 학교생활을 잘하고, 내가 춤추는 것을 좋아하는 것을 알고 있었다.   그녀는 내가 고등학교를 졸업하는 것을 알고 있었고, 대학에 가는 것도 알고 있었다.   내가 한국에 있는 동안, 고아원에서 일할때, 그것이 그녀의 나를 찾는 마지막 노력이었다고 말했다.   이번에는 정말 찾았다.   난 이런 편지를 써준 스님을 만나보지 못했다.   그녀의 행동은 친절하면서도 몰인정했지만, 난 나의 생모가 해준 모든것에 감사한다.

이런 나의 얘기를 하나하나 짜 맞추는 것이 도전이었다.   하지만, 나의 어린몸은  날 낳아준 엄마를 잊지 않았다.   입양되지 않고 다 성장한 고아들을 만났다.   그들은 날 기억했고, 내가 엄마로부터 떨어져 고통속에, 매일 울었던 그 당시를 떠올리며, 이 모든 것을 알고 있는 지금, 난 편안함을 느낀다.   그들은 내가 울보아기 였다고,  고아원의 누군가가 꼭 보살펴 주고 달래주어야 울음을 그쳤다고 했다.   어떤때는  나도 이런것을 잊고 있지만,  어떻게 나의 머리로 하여금,  나의 전 일생에서 나와 함께있었던 이 여인을 잊을수  있을까, 난 여전히 난처하게  당황하고 있다.

More Stars

As the last post of 2011, it is befitting that it be about the last days with my Umma in America.   So, here goes:

I have begun to tell the boys of the imminent departure of their grandma and uncle and I am overwhelmed with P’s reaction.  He has been very sad and tearful and today he saw my Umma packing one of her bags.  In the process of unwrapping things out of their boxes to make them fit into the suitcase, there was a lone paper star that fell off a holiday bag.  To digress for a moment, there is a tradition at our church that during the Christmas Eve service, we sing carols and during each song, people go up and bring a paper ornament to decorate the naked tree up at the altar.  An angel for “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, a bell for “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” – you get the point.  My favorite is the star to be sung with “Oh Holy Night”, it is the sweetest song and the music fills me to tears every time.  My Umma took a star and then told me that when she was pregnant with me, her conception dream was of stars, milliions that shown in the sky and she grabbed one for herself and put it in her pocket.  She loves stars and it seems to be a sign for me in her heart. I have been thinking about this moment for a while now, it is beautiful and sad and lovely all at the same time.  Perhaps she was always meant to gaze at me from afar. 

So, P picked up the paper star and stuck it on the window and said, “when I look at the star I will think of grandma and uncle…I wish I had more to put on the window.”  I translated that for my Umma and she smiled and told him she loved him and gave him a kiss (which he did not wipe off his face).  A beautiful quiet moment for the three of us. He does not want them to go but assurances that we will see them again, seemed to prevent him from crying.  

The aftershocks of this visit has been most profound in my relationship with my Korean Mother-In-Law.  It would be an understatement to say that she and I have had a rough road.  Getting to accept her form of mothering has been hard.  These recent months she has seen me more vulnerable and has been generous with her compliments on my diligence.  High praise indeed.  My MIL has been amazing.  Of all the “mothers” I have, I am struck by how much she has shown compassion, understanding and love toward me.  Like her tiger sign, she has been protective of me and has offered some really nice perspective.  She has been somewhat bemused at the many misunderstandings I have had with Umma, but this time she was insistent that I listen in a different way.  She said that I need to tell her how I feel.  I insisted that I have tried to which she persisted, “do it again.  She needs to hear your heart.”  She said I have not really said how I FEEL about HER, how I feel about her being in my life.  Instead, I kept saying how grateful I SHOULD feel knowing other adoptees would kill for a chance like mine.  She then said that my Umma needs forgiveness from me.  I need to say those words out loud, in English, it doesn’t matter how.  It needs to be said for her but mostly for me.  Food for thought. 

It occurred to me that I have not really told her that she was forgiven.  I have told her to not worry about me, that I have a good life now, that I am ok and that there is nothing to forgive.  But indeed I do need to forgive her as clearly as there is anger prominently perched on my chest.  I do need to say “I forgive you”.  I have never said it.  I am finding it hard to do it in English or Korean.  Perhaps that is the sticking point then through all of this and I am not sure if I can.  I asked my MIL to say it for me, to translate it so that Umma can understand, and she said she would not, it has to come from me directly.  She is right.  I have a task to do and I need to muster up the courage to do it.  It is a whole lot harder than I thought.  Forgive her.

I bought a Korean-English dictionary prior to their visit and it has served me well if only to show my Umma the word “forgive.”  She said it outloud and quietly hung her head.  This small gesture seemed to be just the thing to thaw my heart.  Is this what healing looks like?  I am not sure she was ready to be forgiven, or perhaps like her daughter, she didn’t feel that this needed to be said?   She commented on how hard this has been and I didn’t disagree as a polite Korean would have done, I just said, “yes it was, but I want you to go home with happy thoughts and peacefulness.”  And that was that.  It wasn’t done with a whole lot of grace standing there in my kitchen in my pajamas but it’s done.  I meant what I said in my head and someday I will mean it in my heart.

I helped my Umma pack and George laughed and remarked that this has been the longest stretch of time and conversation I have had with her since she got here.  I know! It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  My heart was a bit heavy.

The day of their departure came and for a few scary hours I thought it would not happen.  A huge snowstorm swept China, Korea and Japan.  No matter, they are on their way and I am home.  It was not hard to say goodbye to my Umma, honestly it wasn’t.  We seem to have been getting along nicer as this time drew near, so I am at peace with how it all went down.  My brother on the other hand, I didn’t want to let him go.  He gave me the biggest hug and I wanted time to stand still.  I am so grateful for him and so happy we got to spend time together.

I am free now.  I did it!  My tiny home feels suddenly huge!  The boxes of toys have been shifted around and the extra blankets and pillows stowed away and I feel grand.  I felt like taking jetes around the room!  It was all bittersweet though as my children ran around saying, “goodnight haemi (grandma) and samcheon (uncle)!”  as they have for the last 90 days of their lives.  It felt like always for them and so my P was teary.  BUT, my G, little stinker stayed true to his feelings.  I asked him if he was sad that they were gone and he looked me dead in the eyes and shook his head.  Brutal but so true….I just had to smile.  I am guessing they will like Mommy a whole lot more now that she may be less crabby.

The End…for now.

I wanted to write this blog for the sole purpose of getting this part of my life out there for others who may be in my shoes.  I am grateful to those who have continued to read.  The thought of living with birth family was never a fantasy of mine, it was never a wish.  Now that it has happened, I feel stronger for it.  As adults, we choose the people we want to share our love with, and our birthmothers are no different.  I could so easily just step away and barely stay in touch.  I could live my busy life without a thought to her and her well-being.  But every time I look in the mirror, I see her.  Seeing her has allowed me to see me.  She remains in my consciousness and I find myself still tethered to the idea that we could be more.

I wish you all a wonderful Holiday Season and send you best wishes for the New Year.  For my fellow adoptees, I wish for you a beautiful 2012 filled with many chosen memories.


I am going away for the Holiday break and don’t plan on writing till 2012

In thinking about the Holidays, I am remembering my one and only Christmas with my Umma and brother.  Here were my words at the time:
Christmas came and things went pretty much as I hoped and my heart is full knowing that we got to celebrate such a big holiday as a family.  Not that it was easy, my Umma insisted on going to church on Christmas day, causing a small rupture of chaos in me.  She had to be pushed with a temper tantrum on my part to persuade her to come to Christmas dinner at my in-laws.  They came to the Christmas pageant and got to see the boys in their comedic splendor.  Alas, they both sat stonefaced much to my chagrin and frustration.  They came to Christmas Eve service, which is my favorite of the year and my brother insisted on sitting behind the rest of the family, really?  What was that all about?  Still, I can honestly say Christmas was great.

Each week, I come up with new realizations usually in the form of criticisms, but I guess that is yet another privilege in this new mother-daughter thing I am having.  My Umma has a childlike way of being.  She lights up when I give her clothes that don’t fit me, she lights up when she gets something special to eat….sense a pattern?  I have no courage to ask her for anything.  The few times I have intimated, I have been perplexed at the lack of response.  I told her how much I like certain Korean foods, she still has cooked nothing in the way of a meal for me or my family.  Even when we are eating, I have seen Korean mothers fuss over the dishes to move their child’s favorite dish closer to them and insist on eating more and more.  She does none of that for me, though plenty for my brother.  She continues to only talk to him and send him to me when she wants something.  Where is all that Korean/Asian hospitality that I hear so much about?  I see the way she mothers my brother, it’s instinctual, immediate.  Not towards me though.  I am disheartened that she continues to skulk and scurry around me like a little mouse and speak in whispers.  She rarely says anything to me, we walk about each other as if we are in bubbles afraid to touch in case the bubble bursts.

All this time I thought it was just me who was uncomfortable around her but I do believe it is mutual.  Since she never got beyond the first meet in her head, this relationship is beyond her imagination.  She can’t seem to move.  She is stuck and sticking to her story, the only one she really had all this time.  She says to anyone who will listen how sorry she is and how she has so much remorse.  For 15 years she has been outwardly sorry.  It feels tired and I am not sure how much more I can tolerate.  I can’t make her feel better but I can’t make myself want to make it easy for her either.  I have given away my love and loyalty too easily in my life, and the one time it should matter most, I am standing firm to not to.  The one thing I wanted out of this visit was to still like her, I fear that is waning.

I am just counting the days and hours till their departure.  One more week and then they are gone.  I realize though that in my backwards happiness, my children are sad to see them go.  P teared up as he learned that this is their last week and he does not want to see them go.  My Umma and brother have been here for so long that in his mind, this is normal and should continue just as it is.  In my elation to see them leave, I hope I can muster up a somber face as they depart.  Terrible, but true.

Having had some separation from these feelings, I am struck by how angry and hurt I continued to feel.  It is suffocating readingthese words again.  How different it is now that she is not in my space.  I have called her more times these last few months than all the years I have known her collectively.  I finally got an international calling plan, the final commitment to staying connected to Umma.  Getting calling cards was the last of the walls I created for myself to keep her at bay.  I can call her now anytime, morning, night and twice in one day if I want.  I don’t, but knowing I can is comforting. I sent a package of slippers for her and boots for my brother.  Korean folklore is that you never buy someone shoes…and if you do, they give you a dollar.  Something about the recipient walking all over you or out of your life.  I just like buying Umma footwear because I love that we have the same size feet.  I don’t think she will be walking away from me anytime soon.

Thanksgiving revisited

I had been writing alot about the visit/stay of my birthmother and brother and quite frankly got depressed continuing the saga as there seemed to be little let up of the anger, resentment and confusion infused throughout the rest of the time they were here.  There was an end to it, if only because they simply left and are not in my presence. But Thanksgiving is tomorrow and this time two years ago was a watershed moment for me and the truth of my feelings about how I internalized my adoption story.  Partly out of protection, partly out of self-preservation, I never really allowed myself to express the anger I felt about being adopted, abaondoned and the pain that arose from blending all my identities.  I am one who always wants to take the high road and go through difficulty with grace and decorum.  The wrath was intense and my Umma got the brunt of it.

Here is how it went down.  The holiday season began with a couple of “come to Jesus” moments.  Weary of saying how tough this journey had been, I found that I was discovering a whole new vocabulary to describe the breadth of emotions that goes into conducting a tour of visitation like this.

I have been known by those very close to me to have a very long fuse.  Well, my fuse burst the day before Thanksgiving lending me to feel most unthankful at the most inopportune time.  I think it was a combination of being exhausted and feeling taken advantage of by my guests.  Eight weeks in, cooking, working, taking care of two toddlers and constantly worrying about what to do for my houseguests, I felt strung out, wrung out.  I was making apple pies and told my Umma to leave the apples only to find them all cut up and going brown after putting the children to bed.  Apple pie.  Seriously not a huge infraction, but she didn’t listen to me and didn’t cut them the way I wanted them to be cut.  Not only had I asked her not to touch them, I said it in Korean certain she understood.  I burst out in sheer anger in a way I hope never to repeat.  What started as a misunderstanding, a desire to be helfpul ended with me yelling hysterically, I was viscerally shaken inside and my anger scared me.  Those apples represented to me the chasm of difference between her and me.  Apple pie was a part of my past, part of my adoptive family’s traditions and something I did alone to cherish those memories.  Her desire to help amplified that we were just not the same.  I have no shared history with her and thus everything I was reacting to was a reaction with no perspective.

The tirade unleased the filing cabinet of woes and ultimately was my first and only time opening up to my brother and Umma on how it felt to grow up here, with a family that I wished would have showed me more love and security and the embarrassing confession that I had been emotionally on my own.  I looked at my Umma and my brother with my hands empty trying hard to express how barren I was feeling.

I was told that I needed to express how much I was hurting inside.  I was told to a certain extent that my Umma was prepared for this and that she knew she needed to hear some of it.  But I don’t think this was even in the realm of possibility of comprehension for my Umma.  She didn’t leave her “room” for two days and sent my brother to do her bidding and talking.  Seeing a grown Korean man cry was tough and I was bitter that his tears were not for himself so much as it was for the two women in his life – Umma and me.  I felt bad he got the brunt of it and grateful he stood firm listening to my rant.  Afterwards, there was no apology, only an explanation that she is Korean and therefore not demonstrative of her emotions especially when it comes to love and concern.  Really, the culture card was going to be used now?  Bullshit, I knew she was capable.  During our scant visits whenever I went to Korea, she was very demonstrative, smiling, animated.  I did not see that woman here during this visit.  Did our meager situation surprise her, was she disappointed?  Was she embarrassed that she had envisioned living in the lap of luxury coming to America?  Was she sad that I didn’t have the easy breazy life that people usually think of when they think of Americans?  I will never know.  She said nothing, but cried and cried.  I didn’t want to unleash, I didn’t want to be the one to throw out the reality check that not all adoptees live the dream life they were supposed to have.  I didn’t want to be the example of success hard earned and happiness gained only after a ton of hard work.  I was proud of myself for being able to say what I did but wished there was another way, without the ugly cry.  And there in lies the mother of all misunderstandings.  The only thing she said was really the most profound truth of all…”I never thought about how you lived here, I never thought about whether you were happy, sad, doing well…I only wanted to find you.  I only thought about the day I would see you again.”  Point. Blank. Period.

All this time, I was hoping she would care about what the last 30+ years were like for me.  I was waiting for curiosity, detailed questions, an inquisition of how I became the person that I am.  Mismatched expectations leads to failure in a relationship, I should have known better.

Two years after this moment, I am not any better at loving my Umma.  We have an understanding though.  We move on from this moment forward.  We live in the present, through the eyes of my children and my grown up self.  She isn’t the mother of my past wishes, but the mother of the here and now.  She prays for me and thinks of me every day.  She can now close her eyes and envision what I am doing day to day and that brings her comfort.  She waits for my phone calls and is surprised happy to hear from me every time.  Until we see each other again, time stands still a bit.  This time, I am ok with that.

This Thanksgiving feels like the usual traditional one that I have had since I got married.  Turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, pie…kalbi jhim, kimchee, hobak juk, dduk and pears.  Perfect, predictable, comfortable.

Wanting to end this on a funny note…here are two photos that so beautifully represent me.  Ironically, they were taken at the same store.  Yes!  There is a place for us betweeners:


Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Picking my head up….

Hello?  Still here.  It has been too long since my last posting.  I am most grateful for the messages I have received this past week from strangers who have taken comfort from my words.  Having that sense of connection has been the single best gift this blog has given me.  So, here I am, poised to do more.

Why so quiet?  Perhaps it’s because I am a year older again! Perhaps the change in weather.  Perhaps it is because I have gotten lost in the world of Korean dramas and find my heart missing and longing for another way of life right now.  Perhaps the duties and obligations of volunteering for the PTA has gotten me so aggravated that I can’t look at the computer.  I don’t know, but I was in a funk and who wants to read yet another diatribe of angst from a middle aged adoptee?

My brain has been foggy though and I am not one to put something out there if it doesn’t have some order in it.  My conclusion is that I miss my Umma and especially my brother.  It has been two years now since Umma has been here.  Since then, our lodging situation has changed and I keep looking at this place thinking it would have been so much easier if we lived here back then.  We would have had more space to move around and I would not have felt so stifled.  I looked at my three piles of laundry waiting for me and find myself thinking if she was here, my space would not be in such disarray.  I know when I am too busy when things stay on the floor past their requisite 24 hours.  I am not sure if I miss her, but I am missing having a mother to worry about me and to keep tabs on my well being.  I hate the way Koreans make blunt observations and feel the necessity to say it out loud, but I feel a need for it right now.  That stream of consciousness dictating my pulse.

There is this belief that when you hit 30 you are really an adult, whereby the wrongs and injustices of your childhood is no longer squarely on the shoulders of your parents, but have made their way onto you to make with it as you see fit.  There comes a time when you can’t keep looking behind you to blame for your being stuck, being angry, being hurt and being childish.  I felt so liberated when I hit 30.  I was no longer in charge of my sisters, I was thinking marriage, I had a career and I paid for everything all by myself.  I could come and go with no one to account for.  But, now in my 40s, I am dumbstruck by my simple childish desire to still be mothered.

It is a complete pipedream.  I am terrible at being mothered.  My skin nearly begins to crawl thinking about this fantasy.  I am a nurturer, the mother.  My supervisor loving reminds me, “mothering oozes out of every pore of your body.”  But this past week, I was tired and weary of standing up with arms outstretched to comfort someone else.  I wanted it to be my turn.

Perhaps life is too good now.  I have the luxury of wishing such a wish.  All basic necessities of life are mine and so I want more.

I spent yesterday with two old and marvelous sister-friends – adoptees, Korean, mothers.  We don’t talk about much in great detail about anything, but it felt so comfortable to be with them over kimpap, fried chicken and a Hite.  Our kids are growing up and while they don’t see each other often, I was struck by how nice it was to see them all play together, no squabbles, no tears.  We are all Aunties to them.  They have more mothers in their lives than the three of us put together.  Perhaps they sense the loveliness of this family connection.  I am relieved for them and bit wistful for me.

What’s an adoptee to think?

I never watch adult TV during the day anymore.  Two small kids home for the summer, it’s been mostly Phineas and Ferb.  Today, I had to be up and out early to do a workshop for a culture camp nearby.  The parents get together the day before pick up and they get people like to come in and get them thinking and talking about race, identity, adoption, family, etc.  I was pleased to be there, but sad to realize that once again, preaching to the converted.

This morning, I got to see five minutes of Good Morning America and about three minutes of the Today Show.  Both shows had something about adoption at the exact point I tuned in.  What’s the likeliood of that ever happening?  First story, the now infamous “Hot Sauce Mom” – Alaskan mother using hot sauce and cold showers to discipline her child adopted from Russia.  The second story, a birthfather fighting for custody of his child who was allegedly relinquished by his girlfriend to a family in Utah

I admit it, the sound of adoption gets my juices going.  I can’t help it, occupational hazard.  I HAVE to watch.  I know, that these are the few and in-between cases., but these stories burned me up and the emails went flying to my “List” buddies.  First thought, of course it has to be a negative adoptiopn story.  No one ever hears about all the good things that happen in an adoptive family, how adoption is a wonderful thing.  Wait, yes we do!  And I admit, those stories get me all riled up too.  So, what’s my problem?  Why am I ready to rain on someone’s parade the minute another happy parent adopts a child?  Why do I question the legitimacy of it and whether it was handled ethically?  Why do I get so angry to hear yet another child hurt by the adoption process and look for someone to blame?  Why does it matter so much that the media get the terminology right, that they portray it “fairly” and accurately?  Why do I question the “experts” that get on the shows to make commentary?  Who the hell am I?

I don’t know the answer exactly, but I know I am not the only one.  I take it heart when a child gets hurt, used, abused, exploited, idiolized.  Perhaps the reality that to adopt is so purposeful I am repeatedly heartbroken when it goes all wrong or portrayed inaccurately.  At the most crucial points in a child’s life, he/she depended on an adult to make the right decision, the best decision, and to know that person failed brings out the very worst in me.

So why am I posting these stories?  Cautionary tales?  Food for thought?  Call for change?  All of the above.

November…six weeks into the visit…trying to tamp it all down

Unique – being the only one, a being without a like or equal

I always hated this word, it is such a lonely word.  It makes one feel like an island and humans are social creatures not meant to be stand alones.   Nevertheless, I found myself in the unique position of being a being who has no like or equal again.  But watching Umma sleeping, I was startled as to how much I looked like her.  It was a mirror into my future self and it took my breath away.

Nearly halfway into this visit, I have to admit, I was struggling, stifled by ugly words in my throat. I was beginning to find flaws in people who I had no right to judge.  To look at them, Umma and my brother, and wish they were more like me really was so unfair.  I was seeing them through a lens they could not conceive.  Even if I spoke to them in Korean, I don’t think they would understand.  They would feel the emotion, my anger, my sadness, my frustration but really, what could they say?

The misunderstandings were piling up.  On this day, my brother started to talk about his plan to study more Englis.  Typical doer, I took that idea and ran with it.  A simple statement of thought to come back to the US some day and improve his current station sent me on a frenzy to figure out how to get some English lessons under his belt before leaving for Korea again.  After presenting this offering to him, he shut down and said, “No, I will be fine.”  He brought a book with him (a dictionary of sorts) and simply made a promise that things will be different when he returns to Korea.  My first thought? Bullshit.  I knew that wouldn’t happen.  I pressed him.  He was in America and should take advantage of proper English classes, even if it was only a month.  I was pushing him to consider this as an opportunity.  He said no.  He didn’t want me to pay for classes, he was fine.  I was angry at his pride and took it as lack of motivation.  From that lens I began judging and it was not pretty.  Every day our mornings began with emails from his friends complaining of no work.  Finally after days of this, I asked him if there wasn’t any other job they can do – grocery shop clerk, taxi driver, delivery man…he pondered and said nothing.  I pushed again – surely there was a job somewhere.  If construction was not providing it, there had to be something else.  No response.  He will worry about that when he goes back.  In my mind, that was imminent.  If it was a difference between zero dollars or ten dollars, then why wouldn’t you try for ten?  Any job?  My frustration mounted and silence deepened.  We are at an impasse.  I was beginning to sound so very American in my ‘can do’ attitude.  Obnoxious really.

My only soundboard was George.  He is not a man of many words, but when he speaks, it is worth listening to.  He put things into perspective for me, my brother’s perspective.  Right then, all my brother could see was that I was the lucky one, the one who got out.  Motivation was a luxury.  My brother grew up with nothing and probably a crappy family.  Really, I have no idea what sort of a mother Umma was to him.  He grew up in an abusive home.  His father beat both of them.  He grew up with a shell of a mother and an angry absent father.  And then it hit me, I could have grown up there.

Again with the “what if.”  If I went back to my birthmother, I could have been raised by my brother’s father, an abusive, harsh man.  He would have been my stepfather.  I would not have had a college education.  I would probably have married an abuser…the statistics prove that.  I would probably still be me and busting my ass to work and make ends meet.  In minutes George was able to put such a real life in front of me, I saw it all.  I tried to imagine what it would be like to be hit hard.  I couldn’t do it, it wasn’t like a spanking a child gets as discipline.  I wondered for a few more seconds who I would be not knowing all that I was right then.  I couldn’t do it.  It was completely alien to me.  So, I let it go.  I stopped pushing.  But it was eating me inside.

What had not changed in all the weeks they were here was that I was still the third wheel.  I was still an outsider.  Umma and my brother had a relationship, a meaningful one, they were a family of two.  I was still not included in their conversations.  Simple things like what I cooked for dinner was a conversation without me.  Their perception of mystery meat was contemplated between the two of them.  “It looks like fish”, “no it’s chicken”…Not a word or question to me.  They sat each and every night sullen, quiet and talking between them about the food, about the kids, about me and not one word was uttered in my direction.  And then there was the damn ketchup.  I know I should not have been insulted, but I was.  After an hour or so in the kitchen thinning cutlets, egg, flour, fry and pasta and salad…they bring out the ketchup.  Really?  Without even trying it they have deemed it inedible without that damn red stuff.  Hot sauce I didn’t mind, but the ketchup bottle pissed me off.  In my vain attempts to participate in their discussion, I just looked like a lunatic, hands flying, English splattered in to make the sentences complete gibberish.  The reminder that they didn’t understand just added fuel to my anger.  “Talk to me!” I demanded, “Don’t ask each other, talk to me, ask me…”  They looked at me with a blank stare and a pale offering that all was well.  Instead, my Umma went for a second helping of food, knowing that this would hurt her stomach.  I tried to stop her but she insisted.  Great, the martyred mother was eating her child’s food to show her love.  I can’t take it.  They were suffocating me.  I felt stifled and unable to breathe and so I withdrew…back to the quiet shell, back into that darkness that lived all my letdowns and frustrations.  I was the third wheel.  I was not her daughter or her sister.  In this place, my home, I was a meal, a warm place to sleep, someone with more than they.  They have learned nothing about me really.  Actually they probably thought I was the biggest toddler ever, temper tantrums and stomping abounding all over.  They have asked me nothing of my past, of what I think about, what my life was like.  I am struck by how much my Umma can say but she never chased it with questions of me – what are you thinking, how are you dealing.  I just got statements – if you are happy I am, aigooo life is so hard for you, you are so busy…she has offered nothing, not even herself.

I wrote these words late one night.  At my darkest hour, halfway through thier visit, I was mourning.  The mother I wanted did not exist.  It is laughable at the very notion that anyone gets what they want.  But this want of mine, this want of a mother figure who got me, who would TALK to me, who would give and take from me….did not exist.  In my frustrated silence and growing aloneness, I was back to that five year old child waiting to hear a mother’s call and feel safe.  These middle weeks were filled with flashbacks of the most visceral kind.  I found my outreached hand that quickened when my Umma came close, to keep her at bay, a startling reaction.  I found myself in tears of wonder as to how much love could one offer with the painful knowledge that grown ups can truly leave a child behind and never look back.  I was brewing a resentment toward Umma.  I was feeling indignant that her statements of love were not enough for me.

Time kept marching on though.  And with each week ticking by, I was beginning to learn that this journey had become less about my Umma and me getting along and more about me feeling things I never allowed myself to feel, giving them air to explode and letting go.  Every time my Umma looked at me, I saw the love there, the yearning.  I continued to feel as if my skin was inside out but the wincing had stopped.

Always resourceful, Umma and I met with an old friend who Umma met over ten years ago.  Kay was a translator on a tour with me and she was the one who gave me the first interpretation of my story.  (Just an aside, Kay too was divorced and lost her sons for over 17 years as they went to her ex-husband.  She reunited with them and shared candidly how challenging that reunion was and continued to be.  She had a special empathy for my Umma.)  At this meeting my friend Kay reiterated how happy Umma truly was to see me, the life I created and my little family.  She only came to the US to see for herself, to see her daughter.  I began to accept that this was really her singular agenda.  I was becoming less incredulous at the sheer simplicity of it.  Kay allowed me too the space to explain some of my thoughts.  I finally told her that I never expected to have her here for three months.  Looking back, it went quickly, but then, it was too much.  I also shared my struggle with reconciling the time warp we were experiencing.  I had been on this journey relatively alone so now to hear Umma talk to me and express love felt like an intrusion.  I shared how much it unnerved me that they just sat in my apartment all day and did nothing.  I was troubled by their presumed boredom and wanted to fix it.  Alas, from their eyes, they were on holiday and perfectly content and were amused by my constant motion.  A much needed laughable moment.

And so, I began to just live my life with silent witnesses observing my every step.  I took Umma and my brother to work with me, a conference at NYU where I was presenting.  They got to see me working, happy and in my element.  At days end my Umma said she was proud of me.  I never heard that growing up and in just six short weeks, I heard it gushing from Umma with every nerve and muscle in her face.  This time I was unnerved but in a good way.

Finding Fernanda

Please excuse my lame way of adding a link.  But this one is just too important to not pass around.

I know we have our own feelings about the perpetuation of international adoption.  The debate has a long history and will continue into perpetuity, I am sure.  The way I see it, there are those who believe “at all costs”, get a child out and adopted.  And then there are others who “at all costs” keep them in country and find another way.  I cannot recall a single time these two camps came together and agreed on much.  But when you read a story like this, I am left with so many questions and choosing sides.  And it goes back to what I wrote weeks ago.  The “once upon a time” always begins with a wish, and how that wish is fulfilled makes all the difference.

My heart breaks for the birthmothers who starved themselves to gain the attention of their countrymen.  Surely, this cost is too much.

And you guessed it, my LIST buddies have been chatting.  What came out of our emails flying around is that this has HUGE implications for other countries where birthparents are able to risk their safety and get representation –  Nepal, Vietnam, Ethiopia to name a few.  It is also a call to arms for us adoptees, in and out of the field, to help ensure that when we talk about ethics and adoption, that it is not just about safeguards in the adoption process.  Rather, it is about whether we are really looking at the best interest of the child, not what’s better for a child.