Holidays 2011

My first year as a Kindergarten mom was amazing.  The firsts are always fabulous.  I thought I would feel like “been there, done that!” with my second.  Nah!  It never gets old.  New child, new situation, new memories.  This week culminated with the decorating of the gingerbread house.  Holiday shopping and baking 2011 is pretty near finished and most parcels delivered.  Giving is so very fun!

Since Christmas and New Year’s Eve will be celebrated in warmer climates, our festivities had to be this week.  “Santa” has been told to deliver presents elsewhere, but WE had our gifts to give.  I realized last year that Santa really does not deserve all the credit in the gift giving department, so we have implemented a list for him and a list of us.  Tonight was spent putting together yet more Lego.  A quiet family night over popcorn was just what we needed after a busy week and soon to be busier weekend.

I found out that “It’s a Wonderful Life!” will be shown again on December 24th.  I won’t miss it this year.  I love that movie.  I love the idea of wondering and seeing what would happen if a life did not exist.  A single frustrated man whose dreams are unfulfilled manages to fill so many other cups of life.  Amazingly cheezy, but a lot of truth.  It makes me want to believe I am right where I should be.  Every experience is a choice to make incredible.

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Forgiveness, the 5 year old way

My little one had his usual playdate with his best friend, T, today.  Rarely do they fight, so when he came crying to me about a harsh remark T made, I was surprised.  Such things are monumental at 5 and the thought of never having another playdate was THE END.  I know it sounds funny, but I don’t think we grown ups are all that different.  Our feelings get hurt just as bad, we just don’t say it outloud as much.

Upon spending a few minutes on options on how to handle this situation, my son settled on returning to the scene of the discretion, own up to his part of the disagreement, tell T why his feelings got hurt and apologize.  For a moment, that brought on a new flood of tears and the declaration that “he won’t ever forgive me!”  I am no longer astonished by the depth of my son’s vocabulary, but now struck with the notion that his prediliction for playing out the scenerio where he will lose out or get his feelings hurt is all too familiar.  Again, thought this was an adoption thing on my end, but maybe not.

Is the idea that we foresee the future as doom and gloom, if we concede we were wrong, the reason so few of us ask for forgiveness?  I promised myself that I would not be so stubborn with my boys.  I want them to see that grown ups make mistakes and lose it and can own it and ask for repentence.  To undo a way of being parented and do it differently is a daily challenge for me.  It is gratifying to see that my kids respond differently.  There is less fear and the moment doesn’t linger and persevere.

This moment today made me think about all the hundreds of adoptees I have talked to.  Too often, I hear them talk about how hard it was to talk to their parents about their hurt feelings, their experiences with racism, their struggle to figure out who they are, and their thoughts about their birthparents.  Oftentimes, it is to protect their parents from feeling the same hurt.  But it is also the sense that it isn’t safe to talk about it.  “If my mom/dad had just once said they didn’t know, or they don’t get it, the doors of that conversation would open wide up.”  How many times I have heard that one?  It is the rare parent who admits to ignorance and says they are sorry.  Instead, I get to see the adopted person fold inward and apologize for not being more grateful, not being more accepting, not saying it just right.  I wonder if we more of us were allowed to play those scenerios outloud we might live less in fear.  Shedding light on some of those doom and gloom ideas might make them less scary.  Instead so many of us carry the guilt of not being perfect, afraid to ask for help, scared to forgive and be forgiven.

The tiff between G and T ended as quickly as it began.  I was really proud of them both for handlng it so beautifully.  They really are great friends with a whole lot of time and trust under their belt to have a squabble and let it pass.  Yet another lesson on how it should be done by the babes in my life.

Best friends

   

T is my little guy’s best bud.  He is a blonde blue-eyed version of my guy.  It was kismet the first week they met in nursery school  T had on Lightning McQueen sneakers and one sight of that fabulous footwear, my son was done.  It helps a whole lot that T’s mom and I have become good friends.  There is rarely a week that our boys are not together.  They literally go through withdrawal if they haven’t been together.  Being in the same class and having additional buddies to play with does not count for the alone time they need just being with each other.  It is wonderful and I am so happy for my little boy that he has someone to grow with who is understanding, tolerant and so excited to see him.

I am grateful to T’s mother for letting me in.  She caught me at a weak and weary moment, just a week into the arrival of my birthmother and brother.  She stood with her four kids in tow empathizing with me on how hard it must be to have a full house.  Ironic as she is never without her children and someone else’s child(ren) and a regular flow of houseguests.  She literally has her door open to anyone.  These days, that’s a rarity and speaks volumes of her character.  She showed me patience where others just listened as if I had a great story and walked away.  And she took my son in when I needed a break.  There has been no standing on ceremony or “getting to know you” period.  It just happened.  Who knew friendships could begin so easily.

Navigating motherhood during the school years is no easy task.  Making friends with other mothers is sweat provoking.  Entering a new social situation with so much at stake feels like middle school all over again.  Truth is, who we are when we are 5 or 6 is not all that different from who we are now.  I think we tend to regress to our childhood self in stressful situations.  Only now, it’s not about us anymore.  I watch my kids as they navigate the playground and am vigilant to see who they gravitate toward, who brings out their better selves and who doesn’t.  I find myself wanting to lurch and wisk my kid away at any chance they might make a social faux pas and be the kid who gets teased, scapegoated or abandoned.  But that’s me, not them.  I am constantly schooled by them as they comfortably run around confident that they are right where they should be.  I could chalk it up to a great school district, but I hope that it also means that the parenting department is steadly doing a decent job too.

I was given the advice to find just one mother in nursery school to become friends with.  I was lucky, I found three, two when my big one was 3 and now T’s mom.  These are women who share my values of family and give me a sense of security as I navigate without a GPS this quagmire of motherhood.  I am loyal to them beyond and it has reaped rewards of kindness, love and compassion in ways I could never have imagined.  They have mothered me in a way and allow me to care about them too.  This sort of reciprocity is not only extremely practical but has allowed for a safety net my boys take for granted.

We have been friends for years now and I can’t imagine these women not in my life.  As adults we create family through birth, adoption, friendship and need.  No matter how often I wish for the past to be different, I am living the life I want now.  The family I seek is here.

Adoption 2.0 Part II

I like the color orange on my kids.  The derth of colors in the boy sections of clothing stores makes orange a particularly great color.  The real reason though is that it is easy to pick out in a crowd.  For some reason, orange makes it possible for me to feel less worried I will lose my kids.

I have a tendency to overthink the possibility of losing my kids.  I think most young parents are the same.  Even though my boys are not twins, I find myself dressing them awfully similar for outings so that I can remember what they have on.  I have scoured the internet looking for temporary tattoos to put on the kids with identifying information to put on them, just in case.  I love that our family last name is so short and was so easy to learn and memorize…having a short first name is even better so my kids will never forget it.  I look for particularly unusual shoes and sneakers for my boys.  I learned that often times the shoes are the last to change if a child gets snatched.  The light-up ones are really the best inventions.  Apparently Disneyworld is THE place for the most up-to-date methods to identify your kids.  They shut that place down in seconds the minute someone shouts their kid is missing.  We haven’t been, but we will.

I don’t like to get lost, GPS is my best friend.  I won’t get an I-phone cause its navigation doesn’t talk to you.  I need constant communication for my first go to a place.  My boys hate it even more when I am lost even with GPS (yes that is possible).  Mommy is not at her best in that moment.  My little guy has an uncanny knowledge of location.  He will often challenge my way home if it is slightly different from the usual path.  He will let me know that the way to Aunt A’s house is the same way to the Fair, to camp and the nature center in Connecticut.  The little stinker is so right!  I can’t wait till he drives me around.

I memorize landmarks avidly and my dear husband has been known to drive me to a location for a “dry run” so I can do it by myself the next time.  I am not afraid to be lost, but afraid I won’t be able to get home.  The thought of having to stay elsewhere when home is the destination is no fun at all.  I know there are really sound reasons for my mild panick at getting lost.  But the crazy thing is that I don’t remember being lost, not consciously.  Is it sense memory?

Learning the particulars of the missing three years of my life from 3-6 years have affirmed for me my particular reasons for this fear of not knowing where I am going.  I have always attributed my need to know as an adoption thing, but watching my boys makes me realize that there is something in their DNA that demands the full itinerary of every travel expedition.  I think it is an inate thing for a kid to have the boundaries of a beginning, middle and end to a trip, a story, a day.  And to know that it will end with a settling in their own bed is essential to security and a sound sleep.

So we are planning a big vacation during the holiday season and we are all looking forward to it.  It has been fun planning our outings, but knowing that at the end of it, we will come back home to the same place is almost as important as a good time elsewhere in the world.  There is no place like home after all.  That is the happily ever after.

Adoption 2.0

Me – Hey G, what’s this?

G – Mommy, that’s a book I made… Once there was a little boy who had a teddy bear and was waiting to be adopted.  Then a dragon came to eat the bear.  A ninja came and killed the dragon and cut the belly open to rescue the bear.  The End.

Me – What happened to the boy?

G – Oh, the ninja adopted him.

———————————–

My little guy is really into making books right now.  He is also into dragons and ninjas.  My first reaction?  Did he just say ‘adopted?’  The word flew out of his mouth so quickly I thought my heart stopped for a second.  My children know my story, the basics, not the complicated stuff.  I have never had a real tough time telling them things that others might find difficult to talk about.  Adoption is a part of our family constellation.

My big boy had a pioneer day at school where he made paper and food from the time of the pilgrims.  In addition, there was an elaborately decorated birth certificate he had to complete.  It was written with olde language and to every single person in the room, it was a non-event.  I looked at that paper and could remember the sinking feeling I would have every time I had to do something like this.  P came over casually and asked what city was he born?  That was a question I could never answer for myself when I was his age.

My children will never know what it feels like to “not know” and it continues to surprise me every time.  My life is not theirs.  It is lovely to see how seamless it has been.  I am wistful and yet thrilled that they are living the extraordinarily ordinary life I wished for them.

I love you the purplest

Parent dilemma.  How to answer the question, “Mama, who do you love more…?”  I always think of the book I Love You the Purplest by Barbara Joosse  I love my first the reddest and I love my second the greenest.  But, I do not love my boys equally.  To do so would mean they are the same person and from the second they were born, it was abundantly clear they were very very different.  I am relieved they are old enough now to understand the nuances of words, no longer forced to choose and be finite.  I love the games we make up to show the different ways we love and the vast ways we can enumerate and quantify that love.  I have no idea if I am doing the right thing.  Parenting really is a crapshoot.  What works for one doesn’t for the other.  Showing love for one might be to give a piggyback ride all the way back to the car and for the other might be to hold his hand and spin him around at random moments to surprise him.  I wonder what photographs of love my boys have in their heads.  Will it be the time we were all on the couch watching a movie, dancing in the living room to some crazy Bollywood song on the X-Box Connect, sitting at the table doing homework together or sitting by the bathtub while they wear their mask and snorkel?

What’s my point?  I believe that love can’t be ‘one size fits all’ and that the essential bit to parenting is to see and acknowledge that.  But I am struck by how much we can’t seem to do that in adoption.  We try really hard to make it all the same.  It troubles me to hear parents say, “I love you as if I gave birth to you” or “I couldn’t love you more if I had given birth to you.”  The reality is that giving birth does not equate unconditional love.  I believe there are more of us who were not instantly in love with our first child or our second, third or more.  Also, giving birth does not trump being the one who does the daily grind.  How many nights I lay with my little one counting the number of months, days, hours that I have logged just laying there when I could so be doing something else for me!  Now, THAT is love.

And yet, to say that adoption is just another means to creating family seems incredibly generous.  It isn’t.  At least, I don’t think so.  There are some who believe that adopting a child gives legitimacy to life – a name, a family and citizenship.  In that sense, so does giving birth to a child.  But, I cannot move to the place that makes being called a parent, the grand equalizer.  There are similarities, points in common but the purposefulness of adoption makes me feel entitled to a certain level of righteousness.  I don’t think it’s because I am adopted that I sit in this place of judgment.  Our society as a whole seems to do the same.  A celebrity does not have a child, she has an adopted child.  The fact that a criminal is adopted paints him in a much dirtier way.  A politician who believes adopting 20+ children seems to allude a sense of “otherworldliness”.  Why?

I offer then, being adopted is not the same as being born into a family.  Perhaps if we approached adoption with that basic level of honesty the necessity of community, services, counseling, support and education would be a given.  Too, the love that is shared between parent and adopted child is different.  And that is as it should be.  Different does not mean more or less than, it just means the orangeiest or pinkest or naviest….

In adoption, the notion of fantasy plays a big part of our lives.  We can fantasize about our birthfamilies, our identities, being adopted to another family, why we are adopted, why we weren’t kept…in other words, we could seriously live in an alternate universe where our lives could be one big supposition.  Talking with people of other cultures though gives me a window to those other worlds and I am left feeling more grounded in my reality knowing that everyone has to overcome similiar fantasies.

There have been at least a dozen new Korean families that have moved into my school district.  This is significant in a district that hails all of 120 or less kids per graduating class.  In getting to know the mothers of these families, I have gained entrance into their lives and the many challenges they have overcome.  I know there really is no homogeneity among any group of people, but I have been struck by how unique each of these women are.  The typical immgration story is rare.  Many of them are here to escape, alter their sense of family and gain emotional currency in a way they never could in Korea.  I am beginning to wonder if those K-dramas are fantasy at all, but narratives of real life.  Breakfast with a couple of these women and I hear stories of love, pain, perseverence, loss, mothers, stepmothers, mothers in law, abandonment, family redefined.  My eyes well up as I relate to their deep sense of loss and feelings of wonder about how they managed to survive such pain.  I am struck by how easily they relate to me and they wonder how they could be so open with a total stranger.  I could chalk it up to it being an occupational hazard or my inquisitive nature.  But really I think my adoption status allows them the freedom to express their own senses.  My adoption story and the way I tell it seems to help give them permission to say outloud that which typically stays tightly inside their heart.  Is it their desire to bring me in or my wish to belong to them? I look like them and can relate to the cultural component of their lives.  I have the etiquette of someone who is comfortable with Korean people as a whole but the American mannerisms that welcomes more frankness.

It leaves me thinking about South Korea, a land that is the size of one US state and holds such disparaties of experiences.  These mothers and I are left wondering in amazement that so much gets accomplished in such a small country and yet emotionally remains so stuck that its people suffer so much.  Perhaps it is precisely because of such hardship that brings so much tenacity.

I found this quote from the bible that I scribbled down on a post it.  “Suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope” – Romans 5:3-4.  I am not a person of deep religious faith, but it seems to fit here.

Honor and Decency

I don’t watch news on TV.  I know, weird, considering how much I love television.  I don’t watch because I have two small children at home who I would like to remain innocent of the big bad world for just a bit longer.  It will be soon enough when my big boy will have to read the paper and do presentations on the current events of the world.  Too, because I am a complete NPR junkie.  Radio was my outlet to the world as my second boy could only nap in the car when he was little.  I would spend a good hour each morning in the car.  10am naptime and it was me and Brian Lehrer (actually made it on his show one time!).

My mornings start with WNYC/NPR.  Radio is kind of like reading a book.  You create the images as you hear the stories unfold.  Your heart races as you hear protesters/gunfights/crowds/a child’s voice and you stop whatever you are chopping just to hear the end of a great tale.  It has been interesting to hear about Occupy Wall Street without images.  And it has been heartwrenching to listen to the chaos unfold at Penn State.

There is a certain retraumatization when you hear of a child who was abused.  My breath is short just thinking about what might have happened, who might have seen what and I am struck by the absence of the voices of the children, now grown and reliving this nightmare.  I am hoping and wishing that their voices get heard and people believe their truth.  I have had so many children, now adults, who come to counseling for the mere wish to be believed, listened to, honored.

Honor.  I am particularly struck by the use of this word, honor, to describe a beloved sports coach and an athletic institution.  Not a sports fanatic in any way, I am perplexed at the use of such a magnanimous word to describe a man who tells boys what to do with a ball.

This morning, and every Wednesday morning, Frank Deford, a well know sports commentator, had a great three minute piece.  It is the only bit of sports commentary I listen to with enjoyment.  He used the word “decency” and it struck me that with all the lights shining on the poor grown men who are now finally being challenged about the decisions they made as human beings, that perhaps we should not be thinking about tarnished honor but human decency.

No Ordinary Thursday

I have a real estate agent who sold our apartment and helped us buy a new one.  Since knowing her, she helped me pack, found people to stage our place, helped me find a plumber who came the same day as called and even bought and picked up the wood to redo a portion of our floor.  She is no ordinary agent.  She happens to be Korean and invited me to a Korean Mother’s Group in the local area.  She is quite the networker and one who has the real pulse on all things Korean around here.  19 mothers and almost 40 children, every single one this agent knew – she either sold, bought or helped renovate their homes.  I was encouraged to come with the assurance that the whole thing was not in Korean and that good food will be served!  I sold the afternoon to my boys with the food.  They could not understand what the big deal was.  Furthermore, why only Korean mothers?  They reminded me that I was Korean and I reminded them, that “technically, I am but inside sometimes I feel like I am not.”  For my kids, being Korean American is a state of being, like being a boy.  Point. Blank. Period.  Trips me up though, I’ve got to admit.

Nowhere does it trip me more than when I am in a room full of Korean mothers and children.  For the first hour, I seriously wondered if I should leave.  All that English was spoken in the first sentence as an introduction, but then it disappeared.  I ended up talking to a 7th grader who was so kind to make small talk with me.  The whole “respect your elders” thing is pretty genius in the Asian community.  You are always assured someone to speak to, they can’t walk away!

The rest of the mothers were all in the kitchen cooking and talking and catching up.  The newbies fell right in as language will unify immediately.  The kids were all served first and I have to include the amazing grace the hostess handled such an enormous group in her home.  I know Korean women are used to having to serve on a dime, but this was incredible.  Of course the food was great – bibimbap and kimchee abound.  It was delicious.

Then we all went around and introduced ourselves.  These women were all very accomplished and embarrassingly so.  There were teachers, musicians, artists, hairdressers, entrepreneurs, financial people, doctors.  I am convinced that to be a Korean American you must have had two careers before the age of 40.  Even the moms who have chosen to parent full time came to the country having had a full career first.  I had decided to just introduce myself with my Korean last name and say nothing of my adoption status.  But then, we were asked to  tell when we came to the US and what brought us here.  Crap.  I have to say that I am adopted.  My heart beat a little faster.  I am never sure how this will be received.  Truthfully, the defiant part of me wants to be bold and put it out there like a badge of honor.  It feels a little rebellious to stir the pot to an uncomfortable heat.  I wanted to see the faces of these women to see if they would look upon with me shame, guilt or sadness.  But this day, I wanted to be one of them, a Korean mother with her kids and just be.  I wanted to see if I could pass.  Then the woman just before me changed things up.  She spoke in English and talked about being born here, growing up in a place where she was the only Korean person and how happy to be invited to this gathering.  Well that did it, I was next.

I was acutely aware that it was hard to hear some of the women.  The children were all around us playing and some of the mothers were having separate conversations, so there was a palpable din in the room.  But you say “I am adopted” and well, one could hear a pin drop in the room.  I got the requisite “oooh” and “ahhhh” and then got the surprise of my life.  Our hostess was adopting from Korea and her child is due home in months.  By the time the afternoon ended, I was approached by two mothers who want to adopt a Korean child and three others who had siblings who have adopted a child from Korea.  Could it be?  That nearly 20% of the room were personally touched by adoption?  There was so much joy and wonder about adoption, no shame or sadness.  Of course there were the usual and customary questions, but there was no pity, just welcome.

So, I have been schooled again and invited to speak to the group on the current situation of adoption in Korea and the orphanages there.  True to form, most of the women were devout Christians and they were keen to learn if there was something they could do for Korea.  I will do it, if only to change perceptions and do something for the kids in orphanges in Korea.  Perhaps this may be the next generation of adoption that I have been seeking all along.

Where did the other non-whites sit on the bus?

I recently read The Help and then went to the movie.  Getting to read a book to completion while parenting young kids is a luxury all unto itself, so I am doubly pleased to have been able to do both.  I went with two other mothers, one Caucasian South African and one Caucasian American.  Ordinarily, their race is of little consequence to their identification.  They are my friends, C and S and two of the loveliest women.  In this case though, it is important to note who was in the car.  The question was asked “what would I do if I were there back then?”  It was really interesting to listen to their candor.  I was in awe of their willingness to challenge their convention as to how they would handle the race issue if they were growing up back then.

I was left with a different question.  “What would I be doing back then?”  Sure as hell, there would be no black nanny taking care of my children.  But I was wondering if I, and others like me, would have been there at all?  Actually, I know there were Korean adoptees back then, we started coming in droves in the 1950s by mostly very religious families who were “called” to save the orphans of the Korean War.  I have met Korean adoptees who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in the South who were not allowed in stores, who feared the confederate flag and who would hide when a truck of White boys would come barreling down the street.  But where were we during Jim Crow?

This question has been burning in my brain for some time now.  My son came home fascinated and forever changed when he learned about Martin Luther King in school and is very diligent in describing the color of a person – brown, very brown, light.  I am actually proud that he doesn’t identify himself as being White.  Driving through Harlem, he will ask if he would be able to hang around and play because there are no light skinned people around.  But I am always stumped when I think about my Asian American history and realize we don’t exist in American History books during Jim Crow.  I know we existed.  There were laws in the history books before then prohibiting Asian women from immigrating here so as not to procreate.  Chinese immigrants were not considered full human either.  And the image of the canary being held by a “Yellow man” entering the mines is forever in my head as a sign of where we came from.

So, I have the dubious task of educating my sons about being Asian in America and adoption.  Like any other minority population, our home is full of books written by Asian American authors, pictures and paintings on the wall from Korea and I remain on the never ending quest to find someone who will teach Korean to my kids other than in a church setting.  My children are around close friends of all shades.   Is it enough?  I am left wondering what will stick in their heads and hearts.

To end, I found a book.  Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segrgated South http://www.news.wisc.edu/18551.  Anyone else wonder about this?  What have you found?