One day once a year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 years, 10 days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good News, With Thanks, Still Skeptical

Last week the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare came out with a press release as they move toward ratification of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.  The small but mighty group of Korean adoptees working in Korea and the many who support them Stateside declared this to be a document worth many thanks.  Here in New York, I am skeptically saying thanks.

In reading the translation of this press release, I am left with tons of questions and lots of curiosity.  Just how does Korea think she will honestly, transparently and fruitfully fulfill on her words.  All these services outlined, who will do this work?  What will their biases be? There aren’t enough social workers in Korea to meet all these demands.  My own experience in social work school and talking to my fellow Korean international students, not a one was going back to Korea to provide clinical services, nor had much interest in child welfare issues.  None were curious about adoption, family work, family preservation or institutionalization.  Those who expressed interest were not going back to Korea, they were staying here to get more training and do clinical work here in English.

I am left wondering if we really think we will get all that is promised in this document?  Are we setting ourselves up?  The Hague Convention does little to address the growing need for full post-adoption services.  We can’t even hold our own country accountable for the patchwork quilt we call PAS.  Dare I join in the celebration when all I could do was sigh a sad sigh?  The group of adoptees in Korea pales in comparison to the tens of thousands overseas.  For most it remains an impossibility to go to Korea, look at their records and gain cultural competence.  For most, the journey of understanding their adoption must be done in the context of living overseas.  Organizations like the Overseas Koreans Foundation has dismantled the ability for Korean Adoptee organizations to seek funding for their work.  If such a foundation doesn’t recognize Korean adoptees as overseas Koreans, then this new statement is useless to me and countless others who cannot or will not live in Korea and consider themselves Korean Americans.

If search and reunion and access to full files by US agencies remain inconsistent, how do I expect to trust a country to be their word when they consistently fail to respond to an adoptee sitting across the table from them in tears asking for more information?  Taking these records away from the agencies in Korea means that bureaucrats will be the gatekeepers of this invaluable information?

All of this boils down to money.  Is there enough money for PAS, family preservation and subsidies to increase aid to unwed women who want to parent their children?  Will PR really work to raise the numbers of domestic adoptions?  Ratifying the Hague will not change the antiquated system of educating and supporting children adopted domestically.

There is one glaring omission in this translation.  What will happen to the children still in care, in orphanages, in foster homes, in crisis from being separated from their families.  I would like to believe this statement by the Ministry of Health and Welfare is more than just making amends for the past, but also looking at a way to fundamentally change the way Korea views international adoption, domestic adoption and child care now and in the future.  There will always be vulnerable children.  There will always be a need for adoption and a system that responds to the need to care for children not in their families of origin.  Anecdotally, I am seeing older children adopted from Korea and the amount of services and assistance families need to care for them is mounting.  These are not children that Korean families are willing to adopt.

I acknowledge the Ministry for a beautiful document with words of promise and an attempt to meet the demands of adult adoptees seeking change.  Included is the step forward toward ratification of the Hague Convention, something that I think South Korea is long overdue in pursuing.  But like the Hague, we have come to see that no one document will change the perception of how adoptions should be conducted or how the records of the children soon to be adults, whose lives fundamentally change from adoption, should be preserved or honored.  Now many years later, we in the US have come to realize that that there remain many more concerns and still children in questionable adoptive homes with more in-care waiting for a change in their future.  But if the simple acknowledgement was what we needed, then I suppose this press release is a great first.

I realize all of this sounds like I have a case of “Monday morning quarterbacking.”  I am not in Korea challenging, toiling and advocating.  I fully realize the sacrifice it takes to do that and I selfishly covet my life here as a mother (then a social worker) just living life.  But I am not idly wanting either, waiting for others to do the work for me.  I hope these words will penetrate in some small fashion as my peers move forward in seeing these promises come to action.

I am taking this goodwill seriously though. For the likes of Jane Jeong Trenka to believe this is great, then I am willing to stay engaged but not feeling so generous with my thanks.  My soju is still in the fridge.


A typical morning dropping off the kids.  Ping!  My phone goes off.  Friend forwards me an article…

“My parents have moved on, but I am living in the past.”

Pause. Do I want to read this right now?  Will I just get pissy?  It is a special day, my sister is coming for a visit.  It’s a celebratory day.  A day that has become only for us to share as the date pushes further behind me.  A made up day to acknowledge I was born just like everyone else.

READ.  I hope you do too.  It is a good, truthful, raw read and I want to reach out this adoptee.  I am not often compelled to do that.  Sometimes, the media does it just right.  My friend and I each got something different out of it.  The feeling that one is without a home either in Korea or in America, the missing of the past, the inability to graft in the future.

“I look at how my father interacts with my half-siblings and it’s a relationship I will never understand. And to fully comprehend the fact that I will never have a relationship like they do is just devastating. I can’t do it anymore.”

I am reminded of my Umma and brother.  They have a relationship.  While I am not deluded into thinking they have an ordinary relationship, it is something I will never have with Umma.  I am her fantasy child, lost and found again.  She can’t come close to me and feel entitled to chastise, joke, tease or demand.  I am getting better at pulling her in.  I am hopeful she will follow my lead.

Dear Dan Savage…

Dear Mr. Savage

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much for your kind consideration.




Several months ago, it was suggested to me that I get my blog translated into Korean.  The main reason being that perhaps my words might help Koreans in Korea normalize and understand the complications of international adoption from a personal perspective from someone who is “older”.  No offense taken, it was a compliment to me that this adoptee felt I could be of any help to others beyond the English speaking/reading community.

Finding a good translator was the challenge.  The art of taking someone’s words and putting them into decipherable terms in another language is hard.  Taking those same words and making sure that the sender’s meaning, intent, emotion is understood as well…well, that’s a gift.  Even for those who are truly bilingual, there is always a default language – the one they count money with, tell time with and curse!

I have written about Kay in other posts.  Kay and I traveled to Korea together on a motherland trip with a group of adoptive families.  She was also training another translator/tour guide too, so I got to see her wearing multiple hats.  But it was one quiet “free afternoon” when the families went out to Itaewon to shop that I got to really see her mastery.  She agreed to meet with my Umma and me.  I had not used a translator for our reunion.  I had been living in Korea for 9 months already and my Korean was babyish but workable.  Actually, other than the basic of information, there was no need for a translator.  We just wanted to be in each other’s company.  She just wanted to hold my hand and sit very very close to me.

This motherland trip was the first of several I have been on, but the first since I met my birthmother.  Kay agreed to translate for me so that I could be more free to ask questions and have a real conversation.  At this point, I had learned alot about Kay and her family circumstances.  She emotionally connected to Umma as a fellow mother who lost her children through divorce and was separated from them for a long stretch of time.  She is Catholic as is my Umma.  The two women connected.  Kay gave us the freedom to be honest and weepy.  She was more than a translator, she was a friend who had only the purest of intentions – to get our words right.  She never told me that I could not, should not say something.  She didn’t sugarcoat or leave anything out for misunderstanding.  What more, her translating was so fluid it was as if we were all speaking the same language.  I have always been grateful for that day.  It allowed me to see my Umma as a person and as a mother.  I attribute that afternoon as one reason I chose to stay connected to Umma.  She became a real entity in my life, not just a reunion, not just an event.

I have been asked time and again who is writing the Korean by the native Korean speakers in my life.  All have been impressed and in awe of what they are reading.  I wanted to write this post in English first so that no one would mistaken me for the writing.  And I wanted to explain what an adoptee has to go through to get her words just right.  When it came time to find said  blog translator, Kay was the first person I thought of, but she doesn’t live close to me.  After going around my local area to seek friends who might be willing, I realized Kay was really the only one.  Thank goodness for technology.  Kay happily said yes.  And thus, all the Korean on this blog is the genius of Kay and the computer.

I have been in the room for several meetings where adoptees are either meeting birthfamily members for the first time or reviewing their adoption files.  Bearing witness to such events is mindblowing and heartwrenching.  Watching bad translations happening is infuriating!  I never perport to speaking Korean well, but I know a good snowjob.  In any language it is demoralizing.  I understand why adoptees are so furious with agency social workers.  Adoptee after adoptee has shared the moment they sit there waiting on every word that is said and frantically looking at the face of the social worker to find all the words that are not said.  Those moments are never the right moments to put forth manners, decorum, culture as barriers to the selective translating process.  I have seen adoptees confused at what they hear because certain aspects of the story were not translated.  Is my birthmother dead, alive, mentally ill, committed suicide, doesn’t want to see me, forgot about me, denying I exist?  Is my birthdate accurate, estimated, made up, based on the Lunar Calendar?  For many of us, we are simultaneously grappling with the discovery of misinformation, inaccurate information AND birth family all at the same time.  There is no other comparable situation in my world that comes close to this level of overwhelm.  In one sitting, I was told my birthmother was not dead, alive, just got out of the hospital, may be dying and searching for me for 21 years, AND my name was changed as was my birthdate.  Just say that sentence outloud, it is just too much.

We seek transparency, perhaps we might start with translating transparency first.

Fast forward to present day.  I have a dear friend who is in reunion with her birthmother and family.  Her birthmother was supposed to come for a visit, but it is not happening.  The circumstances around this change in plans is not the issue so much as the dark abyss my friend has had to navigate trying to get any morsel of information about her birthmother.  The translations caused panic and worry and more questions.  My friend was even willing to go to local markets to find a Korean person.  Imagine having to go to a total stranger and asking them to help you during such an intimate exchange?  I don’t offer up my translating abilities to anyone, but in this situation, I tried.  After one phone call to her birthsister, panic dissipated enough for rational thought to enter and plans have now been made.  Being a part of this process for my friend was the greatest gift to both of us.  I never felt so wonderful as to be able to relay with accuracy my friends concern and then in turn call my friend to let her know how things were really going on over there.  The Korean was not beautiful, not at all what Kay would have done, but it was enough to be more accurate than all the other translations.

One thing that international adoptees lament over is the loss of language and the ability to speak their birth language.  For some, it is near impossible to learn so heavy the emotional barriers to accessing that part of their linguistic brain.  While being able to speak Korean is not always the blessing I hoped it would be, I try my damndest to keep up with it.  Even so, I have limits and I am grateful to have someone like Kay in my life who I trust to make my English words make sense.

Root causes…

Root causes for adoptions…

Could it be that we really don’t want to know the root causes?  Do we know the root causes a person is rendered unacceptable in a society?  You can’t have an “in” group without an “out” group – can you?  Are we all on the same page that family preservation is THE top priority?  Actually, can we believe it is about family at all?  Which family are we preserving and is there truly a right heirarchy of the kinds of families that matter?  Is that even OUR real top priority?

Whenever I hear adoptees speak, it’s not so much that they didn’t want a family.  In fact, all they seem to want to talk about is their family: the relationships within, the want for their family to be different, the want for acknowledgement by a family, to redefine the concept of family, to claim a family for themselves.  What trumps one family over another?  Who is to say that preserving my birth family would make me any more happy, secure, less angry, less anxious.  If I stayed with my birthmother, I am not so sure I would have looked at my life in terms of, “well, I may be poor, uneducated, but at least I wasn’t adopted!”  That feels awkward.  I can’t even say it outloud.

So here is a sacrilegious thought that keeps pervading my head. If the bond that binds between mother and child is so great, then why is being in reunion near impossible for some?  At what point can we actually stop and say that our birthparents were at fault in all of this too?  Not victims, but actual participants in perpetuating a faulty, non-child centered system?  There is the tale of the fourth, fifth, sixth child of a family being chosen to be given up.  And also the tale of extended family members posing as the birth parents to place their niece/nephew for adoption.  These are not the one rare exception, but time and time again, the same story.  Not in the adoption papers, but from the adoptees who have searched and reunited with their birth family.  How do we make sense of that situation in the broader context of whether adoptions should continue or not?

There was a time when I was obsessed with reading about the plight of the Korean comfort women.  Upwards of 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during 1930s-1945.  True Stories of the Korean Comfort Women edited by Keith Howard effected me deeply.  This book published the actual translations of the testimonies of the women who were forced into this slavery.  Adoption was in there as many of these women returned to Korea shunned by society and cast away from their families.  They became mothers through adoption and comforters of a different kind to children who were also cast away.  They found family and redefined it.  What a powerful message it was for me to know that the urge to mother was so great.

In reading these testimonies, I was struck by the way Koreans treated other Koreans.  It was after all the common thread that put many of these girls into such torturous situations.  It was a Korean face that enticed them into a bus or truck with promises of work and money.  It was Korean faces that cajoled them into believing that they made the right choice to go.  Everything about these testimonies is anger worthy, but the idea that these innocent children (yes, these women were children) were used by their fellow brethren makes me angry the most.  And for a minute, I think about that in adoption too.  There is plenty of fingerpointing to go around…but one could also be directed to our immediate flesh and blood.  In my mind, they were supposed to stand firm in their belief that family is all that matters.  Not always true.

Here in lies the quagmire for me.  I can neither undo my past, nor predict my future.  And yet, I live and form ideas based on my past in order to change my future.  I can not ever know if I was not supposed to be adopted and yet here I am.

Finding Fernanda II

An update on the Guatemalan case of a birthmother and birthfather who are trying to fight for the return of their daughter who they allege was kidnapped.

What I found interesting in this article was the use of the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.  I am wondering if this also applies to the idea that at the time Guatemala acceded to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption prior to this incident and yet the US had not ratified.

Which brings me to the idea of universal accreditation.  Not sure why there is so much animosity about the idea of universal accreditation, so would love to learn.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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