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!


Spicy is relative.  Here in Korea, when someone says things are not spicy, buyer beware, it is.  At least if you have to feed children not used to the relative nature of what constitutes spicy and what does not.  Our accommodations are beautiful here at the Lotte Hotel, but the food situation has forced our little family to seek elsewhere in search of something a little more accommodating to our wallets.  Aside from jetlag being my nemesis (thus writing at 2AM), it seems we will need to actually patron the many American restaurants I keep poo-pooing in order for the children to have a full meal without worry that they will end up fuller from the water in order to cool their tongues.  Traveling around Korea is different already this time.   George and I however, are in spicy heaven.  We ordered way too much food and after tasting some of the best chili chicken wings, were happy to give it away to a couple of homeless men in the subway. It felt just like New York City for a moment.

We have had lots of relatives to greet from the time we got off the plane till well into tomorrow.  I knew this would happen, but glad for it nevertheless.  There are three sets of “family” to meet after all.  My Umma and brother greeted us with flowers and my Umma was all dolled up in a simple hanbok.  I already kicked myself for not capturing the moment on camera too confused trying to figure out the phone situation, dealing with a quesy stomach  and gleefully happy to see my dear friend S and her family who were at the airport to go on a vacation to the States.  It was my one moment to meet her family.  S and I have known each other since the orphanage days and I have always wanted to meet the parents who raised her so wonderfully and created a soul so beautiful.  To me, she is heaven sent, so to thank her parents was a true honor.

The reality of having my boys here set in all too quickly, with my big boy getting sick from the plane ride.  Ironic to know his stomach is as weak as mine as I recall all the vomiting I did en route to the America so many years ago.  He braved on for the rest of the evening trying to take it all in.  “Mommy, Korea is just like New York, only with a bunch more Koreans.”  No fear, so far so good.

We planned our trip so we could relax and take in the sites over the weekend.  Lotte World was our first major stop.  We had an unplanned guide with us.  CYJ, one of my orphanage brothers, joined us for the day.  He was gracious to give up sleep to show us around and help us navigate.  My last time at Lotte World was 20 years ago and I cannot recall a single moment.  It functions more like Playland and Great Adventure simultaneously.  We got there way too early waiting for the doors to open only to be mobbed by tons of kids, families and groups by days end.  Korean ice cream and melon ices were a huge hit with a declaration that next time, the boys will be more ready to try more rides.  There is a “next time” in their heads already.

CYJ was 15 when I was at the orphanage last time.  He is in his thirties now and getting ready to get married.  Soft spoken, gentle and kind, my boys took to him immediately.  He tried hard to communicate with them in English while snapping photos and little videos of our day.  By days end, he had a full video montage accompanied with music for us.  It was amazing.  I don’t ordinarily put anything here of my children, but I will try and post his video if I can.

CYJ caught me up on what is going on with the others.  I will be meeting up with a few more by the end of the week.  He informed me that the latest scandal at the orphanage was due to an extortion plan by a father of one of the kids.  All allegations have been deemed inaccurate, charges have been dropped.  August 15th is “going home day” in Korea, so all the OHK alums will meet up and spend the day with the kids who remain. We will have a mini version on Friday or Saturday of this week while my family is there.  I look forward to going with a lighter heart.  Admittedly, I was not surprised that scandal would hit the orphanage.  Personal feelings and hopes that the institution would shut down aside, I am relieved that nothing truly terrible happened to that child.

I leave you tonight with an image worth a chuckle.  I decided to pack for five days with a simple rotation of clothes throughout the week.  I thought we would be good.  After all, having multiple changes of clothes feels like a first world problem and being caught wearing the same thing days in a row is no big deal here.  I blame it on a brain fart on my part as the heat, humidity alone accumulates more changes in a day than anticipated.  Good thing I brought detergent.  What happened later in the day feels like a MacGyver moment.  The bathtub filled with water and clothes got me feeling like a housewife (ajumma) thinking “same stuff, different location.”  Only in Korea, does it seem to make sense that I am once again washing clothes by hand, wringing them out of all their water and decorating our room with wets things.

Now, to get over the time difference and hoping the boys sleep till well past dawn would be the next best achievement right about now.  One moment the boys were literally passing out at dinner and the next wrestling like wolf cubs on the bed.  Jetlag in full steam.

Next on the agenda, breakfast that won’t cost $50 a head!


lucky me, lucky lucky me

I was edited this last time writing about my pending trip to Korea.  While I am there, there will be another Gathering of Korean Adoptees.  There will be hundreds of adoptees in Seoul just for this event.  I must commend IKAA for putting together another great event for Korean adoptees all over the world to come and play, interact, learn, share and be a part of a bigger community.  This year, the planning committee outdid themselves and have created an event for adoptees and their families.  Thus, my family is participating in those events – Children’s Park, Suwon Folk Village, Martial Arts School…very fun indeed.

In preparation for this trip, there is much talk around our home about the pending travel to Korea.  My boys are really excited.  My big boy is curious, my little one not so much.  I have gone over the agenda with them and shared with them the specialness of this visit.  Which led to this conversation on our drive to camp the other morning:

P – Are there going to be other kids there like us?
Me – Yeah, so, you will see lots of other kids whose Moms and Dads are adopted.  But the coolest part is that a lot of them may not speak English, they may speak Danish, Swedish or other languages, not just English.
G – What?  Why?
Me – Cause their Mommies and Daddies were adopted to places like Sweden and Denmark and France and so they grew up speaking other languages.
P – That’s so cool!
G – Mommy, you are so lucky that you are American!
Me – Huh?  Why?
G – Then you wouldn’t have met me!  Or Daddy or P!

Right.  Nothing like a concrete six year old to put things into perspective for me.

The idea of adoption has never been a novel discussion in our home.  My boys are very curious about what my orphanage looks like.  The idea that I came from an orphanage is somewhat of a fascination to them.  While I assumed they understood my personal connection to adoption, my little one reminds me that talking about it has new meaning every time.  He came home one day to inform me of a classmate who is adopted.  Which led to another conversation of note:

G – Mommy, did you know G was adopted?
Me – yes.
G – You did? How?
Me – well, with a name like (insert Italian surname), and an Asian looking face, I kind of figured that out. Do you know who else is adopted?
G – (Jaw drop, eyes bugged out!) YOU ARE?
Me – yup. And do you know who else is adopted?…(and I rattle off a long list of sisters and “aunties” both my boys know)
G – (Again, mouth agape…no words) Wait, all of them are adopted? What’s adopted?
P – Yes! Adopted means when a mommy gives birth and can’t take care of a baby and she brings the baby to an orphanage or something like that. And another mommy and daddy goes to an agency or something like that to ask them to help them and then they take the baby home. Don’t you know?
Me – (stunned look on my face) Well, that’s one way of putting it. How did you know all that?
P – I don’t know, I just know it.
G – Wait, am I adopted?
Me – No
G – Am I going to be adopted?
Me – No. You have one mommy and that’s me.
G – Well, then do you know who your mommy is?
Me – Yes, and so do you. It’s wei-halmoni. She is gave birth to me.
G – She did????

With bathtime over, the conversation ends. My little G always keeps me on my toes. It takes a few rounds of these conversations before it all sinks in. He reminds me though, that my being adopted does impact his life in no small measure. This trip to Korea is a very big reminder that adoption has a generational link in a way I had anticipated but only now seeing to fruition. My children’s connection to Korea, to being Korean and American, is not like the other kids around here. I see the wheels turning in my big boy as he sorts out what kind of a Korean American he is. His curiosity and pride is so connected to my sense of curiosity and pride. His frustrations and confusions are mine as well. I am merely baby steps ahead of them.

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.

Table talk

I got a new dining table. The old one was a hand-me-down from George’s parents. Their taste and style is very different from mine and while I confess we got a big nudge and help to purchase this table, it is pretty awesome.  It is strong, durable, stable and huge; fit for many more playdates, dinners, coffee time.  Still, if that fancy table could talk, it could tell a tale or two.  It got so wobbly as it amassed hours and hours of resting elbows, heartfelt stories and still more cups of coffee.

Over the last couple of years, there has been a slow evolution of Mommy friends in my circle.  Typical to past experiences, my first group of friends tend to be everyone but Asian, usually international.  Over time, I see the tide change to include more and more Asians and Asian Americans.  It is like my identity formation revisited.  This time it feels a bit different though.  I didn’t feel avoidant, just shy.  With every year, my language skills improve, my navigating the fine line between being Korean and being American is becoming seamless and frankly, I am getting too old to worry as much.

This past year has seen a growing flow of coffee time and table talk with more of my Korean Mommy friends. Inevitably our talks get more intimate as we talk about being in this country, raising our children and reflecting on the life they had “over there.”  We commiserate over the woes of having Korean Mothers-In-Law and being married to their sons and have dabbled in the bigger social welfare issues in Korea for women and children.  For the most part, I am just like all the other Korean mothers save for the fact that my kids are the only ones who do not speak a word of Korean.  Part occupational hazard, part temperament, several have come to me to ask for help, for comfort, for a chat.   I am always acutely aware that there will aways be a part of me that is outside.  It may play a small part in why they talk to me.  They know that our conversations stay with me, they don’t diffuse out to the community.  As one mother said, you tell one person, you might as well tell 100.

As with anyone, the more you talk the better you know.  The more you talk, the more being Korean is a three dimensional construct, not just about food, clothes and dramas.  I especially love when these women are able to give me a dose of reality in my small, but ever shrinking, love affair with Korea.  They remind me that growing up in a homogeneous community, where I would have all the privilege of color/nationality/language, it would not have immune me from the daily struggle to be heard, loved, comforted, confident, safe.  They remind me that as women and mothers, they are far more free here.  They speak to the reality of the pressures of conformity and the continued biases of the Korean way.  Their polite silences remind me too when my American/Western judgments come through and truncate my expectations of the progress that is assumed by a tiny country growing economically at a pace its society just cannot/will not sustain.

I feel less in the learning process of being Korean these days but more in the experience of being Korean. Yet, there are times when being in is just messy.  It is one thing to learn about Korean culture, another to be embroiled in it.  It is something I simultaneously covet and abhor.  Inside, I yearn (with a capital Y) to have cultural context infused in me but when it happens, I cringe and push it away like a virus.  To hear grown women tell me their worth is based on whether they have a son or daughter makes me furious.  And yet I KNOW the feeling of relief that washed over me the day my first born son came into this world.  I shake my head when I see a strong, smart, capable woman tamp down her desires, pursuits in order to save a marriage, keep the in-laws happy, for the sake of keeping up appearances.  Infidelity, divorce, death….all have shown me the inner workings of Korean families.  None are exclusive to Korean families, but the navigation of how these issues resolve has opened my eyes to the deeper appreciation I have for the strength of these women but also the interesting quagmire I feel as a Korean American woman raised in an American home.

I find myself pondering about the young Korean American adoptees behind me as they grow and navigate their sense of womanhood.  After all, the navigational compass comes from the women in front of her, primarily her mother.  Her mother, who is Caucasian, American/Western.  If they are lucky, they will grow with people of color in their world who they can resort to as possible templates to emulate.  It has taken me decades to figure this all out and while my mantra remains, here, we have choices, I know I am talking crap as I am fully aware of the conformity I seek in being accepted by these other Korean women.  I want to honor the legacy and history of the women in front of me that enable the idea of having choices.  I want to be included in that line of women to give such empowerment to the girls behind me.  But I am torn between wanting to trash the perception of choice and extol it.  Because, layered on top of these choices is a society that remains ever so slow to change.  I often say I can choose the aspects of being Korean I like and discard or ignore that which is unacceptable to me. That sounds great intellectually, but the thing I am seeking is that fixed confidence my Korean Mommy friends have that despite what they go through, they are ever so capable of navigating this crazy path with grace, acceptance, anger, passion all the while remaining so intrinsically Korean.  Being ‘all in’ means getting confused, lost, making mistakes and being judged.  How to impart that tenacity to the next generation of girls who might want to walk this path with me?  Perhaps it is the very act of getting mired, lost and making mistakes that help to transcend this missing epigene that I lack, that many adoptees lack, to try on repeatedly till we can find our own comfort zone of grace.


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.


I love blue eyes.  I love hazel eyes.  I even love brown eyes.  But mine are so dark, you can’t even see the pupil.  I became aware of this during 8th grade science class when we had to watch how light effects our pupils, my partner couldn’t see anything.  No change was visible.  Yet another reason I didn’t love my eyes.  We always want what we don’t have.

If you asked me who I wanted to marry when I was a senior in high school, he was tall, blonde and blue eyed.  I wanted that sort of American look and a slim percentage of a chance my child will have light eyes and wavy hair.  Never in a million years could you have convinced me that I would ever fall in love, let alone marry, a Korean man.  Ok, for those who know him, his hair is uncannily curly! But alas, my boys have straight dark hair and the darkest of eyes.  I adore that about them now…but back then, they were but a glimmer in the darkest recesses of my mind’s eye.

Fast forward to my life as a post-adoption social worker organizing workshops for adoptive parents.  I was growing weary of the panels of adoptees coming to share their stories.  I loved the stories and so did the audience.  It seems a room full of adopted parents are ravenous for our stories and even more ravenous for our accolades afterwards that they are doing just the right thing because they can check off their list all the things our parents didn’t do for us way back when.  In wanting some focus, I thought of themes adoptees could come, speak and share about.  Dating and relationships was just such a topic and I knew it was by far the most personal of personal.  I wanted to do this for many reason, notwithstanding the many times I have had to field such ridiculous comments like – We are Jewish, it is important she find a nice Jewish boy, but she keeps bringing home those other Latino boys from across the tracks.  Yes.  you read correctly.  Finding adoptees willing to share such a personal experiences as how and whom they found to love was a huge ask.  But find I did and I think I was more changed than anyone.

I know I am showing my age with what I write here.  I hope I am.  There was a panelist, an Asian adoptee, who shared her experiences of dating Asian men.  She was married to a Caucasian man.  I rightfully guessed that the bone of contention in those past relationships was her being adopted.  It usually was and it usually was the demise of the relationship as no good Asian boy would date, let alone think about marrying, an adoptee.  One guy’s mother accused her of trying to gain legitimacy as an Asian person through her son.  That statement struck me dumb for a minute.

By the time this panel came into my life, I had already gone through the heartache of dating a few Korean boys whose mothers refused to let me in their homes because of my being adopted.  And, I was already married to that wavy haired, dark eyed Korean man.  Our very long courtship was over and the main sticking point of my adoption status was water under the bridge.  After all, I was self sufficient, went to a good college, had a couple of degrees after my name and was taller than my father-in-law. I kid.  I seemed to have found one of the few guys who really had no worry that his parents would come around to accepting me.

Honestly, it was never lost on me that my relationship was a mixed raced relationship of sorts.  Everything I learned about being Korean was either from a book or my year in Korea.  Even now, I work diligently to maintain my Korean and bring things into my home that is Korean.  The consequences of my shortsightedness as far as being a Korean daughter-in-law took quite a few more years of misunderstandings, confusion, tears and wrinkled foreheads of wonder.  Tales of Korean Mothers-In-Law are infamous.  Just look at the blog – Kimchi Mamas – there is a whole section just on Mothers-In-Law!  While I was frustrated that I wasn’t cut a little more slack for not having been raised in a Korean home, it never dawned on me that my Korean identity was legitimized by having a Korean husband.  I was not more Korean because of whom I married.  If that was the case, I missed that “How-To” book.

I always knew I was Korean.  The whole world knew it too.  It is that very part of me that caused such derision growing up. Instead, being married to a Korean man has forced me to be far more vigilant in how I identify myself so I don’t lose the hyphenated aspect of my identity.  The American and Adopted part of me are equally essential to determine what box to put me in.

What my truth really was back then was this…  As an adolescent girl wanting so desperately to fit in, I believed an All American blonde haired, blue eyed boy would legitimize ME as an American.  He would make my Korean face disappear.  No one would look at me strangely and wonder if I spoke English, if I was American enough.  He would be my proof that I belonged here.  How youthfully superficial is that?  I see that now.  I can also now see my very Korean looking sister and her tall, fair complected, light haired husband and only see love.  I love hearing my nephew declare that he looks more Korean than his sister.  And I can now see that I found love in the form of a person who looks just like me, legitimately.


I love a well wrapped gift – the perfect amount of paper, tape well hidden and matching double sided satin ribbon to accessorize.  I have a tendency to want things wrapped up nicely literally and figuratively.  This one year anniversary of writing this blog seems to come with a desire to keep writing and doesn’t have that nice ending I usually seek.  This one year of writing thoughts of adoption and being adopted has been simultaeneously cathartic and agonizing.  It has allowed me to empty my head of the thousands of words I had stored up there only to find that the space got quickly replenished.  It allowed me to meet more adoptees, learn more stories and confirm for me that we are such an eclectic diaspora of experiences.

Anniversaries remind me that time keeps moving forward.  Yet, with time, I still feel unfinished about my feelings about adoption, my identity as an Asian American woman, my job as a mother and as a social worker.  Being part of the blog-world has opened up old wounds, questioned my loyalties and challenged my belief in civil discourse among adoptees.  I am astounded at the lengths in which we will take in defending a point of view about adoption and the amount of venom adoptees working in the field of adoption still recieve.  It has brought out the old defenses I thought I had put to rest once I left placement and my work at an adoption agency.  It has affirmed my dedication to continuing in post-adoption and working with the kids (and their parents) as they become another generation of adopted people.  It has given me wanderlust in being in Korea to do more of what I do there.  It has made me a seeker again.

At the same time, time being the prevailing teacher, I have met people this year I would probably never have had the courage to speak with about my thoughts on adoption.  On the surface it seemed we were on polar opposite sides and yet our adoption status has been the unique and most powerful connector.  I am humbly grateful.  It seems there is a newish revolution coming again of activism in the adoptee community.  I look forward to the opportunities blogging has given me to stay connected to those who want to change the way we talk about adoption and be included in parts of that change.

Anniversaries also remind me of what I have missed.  This year is marked by a second year without my beloved grandmother, which reminds me that love does not come in a human form but in the memories created with that human.  I miss her and her spontaneous way of calling me, “Honey child.”  It also marks more time that has passed between my adoptive parents and me.  While I continually negotiate in my head as to how I truly feel about that decision, I feel empowered each time I choose the love I seek to create rather than settling for a falsehood in the name of being a good adoptee.

This summer marks over 35 years that I have been in America.  And while I feel so very American, my orphanage, my Umma, my brother, my static life in Korea runs constant commentary in my head.  On paper, I was adopted long ago.  In my heart, I am still adopted now and it is this identity that clearly colors my thoughts, influences the way I hear things and continues to be the frame of reference from which I base much of my decisions about people, friendships, love and trust in others.

Perhaps adoption is not so far in the backseat of my life.  I think I am ok with that for now. Not everything can be packaged so neatly in the chasms of our heart.

Playdate magic

Four is the magic number for 5 year-old playdates.  Yes, it’s louder and the toys are more out of control, but there isn’t a whole lot of squabbling.  No one feels left out and the boys either play together or go off two and two…no one is left alone.

As the school year ends, I am saying goodbye to the regular rotation of playdates.  As a general rule, I love playdates and I actually love hosting them.  It lets me clean my apartment.  Wasn’t expecting that?  Strange as it may seem, I get all my cleaning done while four boys are running around.  Cleaning allows me to move freely about virtually invisible.  It allows me to be in a room with them and eavesdrop on their conversations.  It lets me see my kid in play and listen to the dynamics of the relationships.  They are not bothered by the Mommy in the room when she is busy dusting or rearranging.  It is marvelous and I learn a ton.

One recent playdate got me thinking about play in general and adoptees at play specifically.  Four 5-year-old boys gave me the gift of the perfect example:

T – “Pretend we are brothers and don’t fight!”
I love this one.  It reminds me of our natural instinct to come together, to see each other as family, as brothers.

G – “Retreat!  Retreat!  Do you know what retreat means?  It means to go back!”
L – “But this one is going sideways!”
The look on my son’s face afterwards was priceless, utter confusion as to how he could be so misunderstood.  Isn’t that so true for us too?  I find myself with that same look at times.  Utter confusion as to how we can look at each other at such odds and not see we are all seeking acknowledgement.

This summer begins as it always does with a transition.  No more school and goodbyes to a beloved teacher.  My big boy is usually quiet, calm and reveals little in the way he feels about school.  But on this last day of school, he wept.  A long hard weep and a venture back to his teacher for one more hug goodbye.  Kindergarten goodbye was much smoother.  We seem to expect that a five year old will need time to process the end of the year.  I am so relieved I remembered to think about setting up a playdates to take their minds off the end of a long hard earned academic year.  I have been anticipating the reaction I got all week, wondering when it was going to hit them both that this was an end.  Teachers and parents alike have commented on how “out of it” the kids seem as the year closes.

I don’t think too many of us transition gracefully.  Looking at how hard we fight against aging is telling.  The transition of the end of school, the end of one stage of life and onto a new one is terrifying for the most honest of us.  But I have to admit as an adoptee, it can make for an even less graceful moment and for some of us, downright ugly.  For me, it conjures up lots of anxious feelings, unsettling feelings and the inhuman desire to predict the future.  I am a planner, list maker, checker of boxes.  So when people say, the summer is for relaxing, I get a bit panicky.  Not surprising, this loosey goosey idea of “freedom” while the kids are at camp has produced quite a few scheduled appointments already filling up my calendar to leave little room for “downtime.”  I may complain about not having the time to just read or relax, but I must be honest, to keep in motion no matter how slow, keeps me from being too complacent to worry about the what ifs that I cannot foresee.  Transition and control.  Seem like complete counterintuitive ideas and yet for many adoptees, myself included, they are the two quintessential themes of our lives.  We cannot control the ‘musts’ of transitions, doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying.

On my reading list this summer – Exit: The Endings That Set Us Free by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

Don’t forget the sunscreen!



…everyone, no exception, must have a tribe, an alliance with which to jockey for power and territory, to demonize the enemy, to organize rallies and raise flags….tribes gave visceral comfort and pride from familiar fellowship, and a way to defend the group enthusaistically against rival groups.  It gave people a name in addition to their own and social meaning in a chaotic world….the drive to join is deeply ingrained.  – E.O. Wilson (Newsweek magazine, April 9, 2012)

I can’t wait to read the rest of this biologist’s book.  I think I read the opening three paragraphs at least four times declaring YES! each time.  I am always struck that in my profession of therapy, the presenting problem may be adoption or something else, but it always ends up being about finding and losing and finding again a definition of family and belonging.  In reading this article it affirmed for me my desire to belong to a group and label it so.  Not that I am an extremely concrete person, but I need to know what box I put myself in and who I choose to ask to join me.  And now I know, this is natural, the way we humans all do it.

However, I find myself in a conundrum.  I find, we adoptees, tend to do the complete opposite in our tribe…we faction, we subgroup, we demonize a whole lot.  We label when we repel labels, we point fingers when we hate being outcasted and we judge almost hoarding our resources leary of sharing.  I don’t think this is what a tribe is supposed to do.  Are we, adopted people, a tribe?  Or has our life experience and the tribes we were adopted into muted our common label so much that we cannot see each other?

I admit to having an intense feeling when I read adoptees decimate adoption as genocide.  I admit that I have an equally intense reaction when I hear adoptees gushing with gratitude and feeling saved through adoption.  And then I withdraw and want nothing to do with adoption, adopted people and the “A” gets shoved down the list so I don’t have to deal with it.  I also fear that I get judged pushing me further out of the group.  To those who are searching, I am the freaking lucky one who got found.  To those who are seeking, I seem to have it nicely wrapped up.  To those who are angry, I am in denial, succumbed to the dark side of happy adoptions.  To those who are grateful, I am a hypocrite.  And if I am being truly honest, I think the same of others in my own tribe too.

Despite all the judging, I love this crazy tribe of adopted people.  I love that we are so diverse and cannot get along all the time.  The compartmentalizing is a bit crazy making and perhaps the outward expression of the dischord we have inside having been transplanted at such young ages.  But I will continue to come to the group with the approach that I am meeting extended family.  Surely we can find something we can like about each other even with all the exceptions to our stories.  If anything, being adopted (present or past, depending on how we choose to see it) gives us a name.  I suppose then, that it is up to us to define our social meaning…is that we are collectively working towards?

I keep going back to my kids when I get stuck.  I keep thinking  about what the message is that I want to convey to them? What neural pathways of communication and community do I want to create?  Is casting the net as wide as possible a good thing or overwhelming?  My big guy likes his alone time, and while I get unnerved by it, I respect it and think it rather brave of him to walk away.  My little guy is right in the middle, in the thick of things, and I admire that too.  But I am constantly pleasantly surprised that they choose to come back home, to my husband and me.  Despite their pushing of boundaries, back talk, anger, frustration, they keep coming back to their homebase.  Despite my fears of worry that they will like another family, another relative more than me, they keep looking for me.  I am their tribe.

Ok then, I get it.  For me, the tribe of adoptees has become my homebase for better or worse.  In the past 20 years, I have decided this is my tribe and it is the strength and passion of this tribe that allows me to push away and return with little ceremony.