31
Dec
12

Building Brain Highways, aka neuro-reorganization

What a difference a few months make with the right help! I’ve blogged before about J’s anxiety, mostly when he was required to be alone. He couldn’t (not wouldn’t, but truly couldn’t) sleep alone; even going to the bathroom alone caused him anxiety. This anxiety led us to two different attachment therapists. The first one we really didn’t like; the second one we liked but he felt that the problem was not attachment and that J would grow out of the stage. That was comforting, but several months later the situation was no better and at times it was worse.

It was May when a friend invited me to attend a seminar on neuro-reorganization. The seminar was free and I was willing to hear about anything that might help. As I listened to the practitioner describe kids with underdeveloped lower centers of the brain, it was like she knew J. She was describing his anxiety, his lack of focus, his inability to be still, his confusion at times over true pain and normal bodily functions. I was amazed at what I was hearing.

Basically it is believed that the movements that babies do with their arms, legs, and head serve to hard-wire the brain for later. These movements culminate in creeping (army crawl) and crawling (hands ans knees). Some of the movements allow the eyes to track correctly across a page  making reading easier. If done correctly and enough, babies brains are wired and the primitive reflexes that infants have are suppressed.

For example, with highways in place, our fight or flight mechanism only triggers when there is really danger (like encountering a bear while hiking). But without highways in place, this part of the brain could perceive things like homework or picking up toys as a threat.

The day after the seminar I came home and began doing more research on neuro-reorganization and what was available. There are a couple of different ways to go when it comes to these programs–traveling practitioners who visit/evaluate about every three months, hands-on regular help if you’re lucky enough to live near a practitioner, and online programs. The costs and the amount of time needed to complete the program vary.

Most of the programs are similar in nature: the child does movements that they did as babies. After so many hours of doing these movements as well as creeping and crawling, the highways are in place allowing the child to lead a life without the things that have hindered them thus far.

As I was looking around at options, I found Brain Highways. This is a center the holds classes–two eight-week classes–that teach the parent how to facilitate the brain reorganization. They have an online program, but we live within driving distance of one of their centers. The evaluation was free so we decided to see what it was about.

In June, J had his evaluation. Sure enough, they found him to have deficits in both lower levels of the brain. We signed up for classes that started in August. The first class focuses on the pons level of the brain–where the fight-or-flight response resides. This was way we signed up and we were eager to see J’s anxiety easing and we weren’t disappointed.

By the end of that eight-week class, J started to put himself to bed. Instead of one of us having to lay down with him for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, we now read him a book, tuck him, say goodnight, and leave the room. We went back and checked on him once or twice, but often he was asleep before we even made the first trip back. At end of this class, J was still sleeping in our bed but we felt like we’d gained our evening back since we didn’t have to stay. He was also going to the bathroom and his bedroom without someone having to go with him.

In early October we started the second course with Brain Highways, the mid-brain course. This area of the brain controls filtering noise, sensory areas like touch, and vision. When we started we thought of these things–lack of focus, touching everytyhing, struggling to read–as J’s personality or just being a boy. But what we learned was that these can be symptoms of an underdeveloped mid-brain. By the end of November, we were finished with classes and were just continuing our patterns, creeping, and crawling at home.

Early December brought a minor surgery for me, and the perfect opportunity to move J to a bed of his own. The mattress is still in our room (mainly because of my husband’s work schedule) but the move was no problem for J. He’s sleeping alone through the night. And we know this wasn’t possible before Brain Highways because we tried it. Earlier this year, we put a twin bed at the end of our bed and J couldn’t sleep through the night alone.

All of which brings us to last night. Last night I was working from home and it was after 10 p.m. Usually I’m in bed by this time but last night I was trying to get a project finished and was burning the 10 p.m. oil. About 10:10, I heard J say “Mom.” I couldn’t respond immediately, which I figured would lead to crying and panicked calling on J’s part. That’s what had always happened before. Instead, he came out of the bedroom and called “Mom” calmly. I answered, and he asked where I was. I said still working in the living room. He asked, “Am I still supposed to be sleeping?” I said, “Yes, you are, and I’ll be in soon.” He answered “OK,” and quietly walked back to the room, climbed into bed, and five minutes later when I went to check on him, he was sound asleep.

I was–still am, in fact–totally amazed! Likely only my husband, me, and our exchange student from last year, realize what a truly big deal this was. Bedtime has become a joy! Each day is not filled with anxiety and fear, and we are much more able to enjoy J.

We’re still working on the mid-brain issues, but were warned that this level of the brain doesn’t change as quickly as the pons. But thanks to the excellent results we’ve seen already, we’re confident that in time we’ll see progress and change in the mid-brain issues as well.

While many things can lead to lower brain underdevelopment, trauma is one of them. That means that many (most?) adopted kids are prone to underdevelopment. That is why I’m encourage every adoptive family I can to check out http://www.brainhighways.com. There are free evaluation videos so you can see how lower brain underdevelopment manifests in kids. It costs nothing to check it out. We’re so glad we did!

 

29
Dec
12

Elf–An Adoption Story

Given that the Christmas season is wrapping up, the story of Buddy the Elf is fresh on my mind. I’m sure most of you have seen the movie, Elf, and know the story of the Buddy, a human, who is adopted by one of Santa’s elves.

Recently we were visiting with family friends and started talking about the movie. “It’s so ridiculous,” my friend said, “that it’s funny.” I have to admit that I bristled a little at the comment. Sure there are totally ridiculous parts–like Buddy eating spaghetti with syrup and various candy mixed in. But the story of Buddy is a dear on for me because I see so much of my son’s adoption story in Buddy’s story.

So what do J and Buddy have in common. Here’s a list:

  • J is growing up in a culture completely different from the one into which he was born.
  • Because of that, in many ways he’ll be more comfortable in his adopted culture, but will likely not complete fit in.
  • Parts of Buddy’s birth family history are similar to those of J’s birth family too.
  • J is totally interested in exploring his birth culture and finding his birth family.

From my perspective so much of Buddy’s story is far from ridiculous. It rings true. And I hope the ending someday rings for our family too. Because in the end, Buddy is accepted, has close relationships with, and spend times with both of his families. How wonderful that would be!

15
Aug
12

Korean Independence Day–광복절 (Gwangbokjeol)–A History Lesson

In response to a comment on a previous post about this holiday, I decided to do a post related more to the history of the holiday (although I might have done this in previous years, I can’t remember).

Korean Independence Day–광복절 (Gwangbokjeol)–is celebrated on Aug. 15 each year and it commemorates a couple of significant events in Korea’s history.

First, on Aug. 15, 1945, Korea was liberated from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule. During it’s time a Japanese colony, Koreans were required to give up their culture and heritage. They were forced to take on Japanese names, speak Japanese, learn Japanese history, and eat Japanese foods. So when Japan surrendered the Koreans had much to rejoice over.

Then during the process of liberating the Korean peninsula, the country that had been one for thousands of years was cut in two. This happened when the US liberated the southern part of Korea while Russian troops (our ally in World War II) come in from China and liberated the northern half of the country. Russia and the US agreed to meet in the middle at the 38th parallel. From what I’ve read the US troops truly believed that when they met the Russians it would be to give Korea back to it’s people–all of Korea.

But the Korean peninsula is valuable property to it’s geographical neighbors, and not everyone involved in the liberation process had the same idea. China and Russia wanted Korea to be communist. Russia also had a vested interest because control over Korea would provide Russia with much needed sea access. The US, of course, had no plans to turn the peninsula over to the communist.

So Russia retained control over the northern part of Korea, while the US held the southern half. Three years after liberation Korea remained divided; the US helped the South Korea become its own country while Russia helped establish the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).

On Aug. 15, 1948, Syngman Rhee (who had been educated in the US) was sworn in as the first president of the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Gwangbokjeol was declared public holiday in South Korea on Oct. 1, 1949.

North Korea celebrates the liberation holiday on Aug. 15 as well. Their holiday is called Chogukhaebangui nal (조국해방의 날; literally “Liberation of Fatherland Day”).

03
Jul
12

Blending Cultures: Too Much versus Too Little

I just read an article on AdoptiveFamilies.com that I thought was great so I had to share. It talks about ways of blending birth culture into your family and walking the line of too little versus going overboard. Here’s the link:
http://adoptivefamilies.com/articles/2345/transracial-adoptive-family-blending-everyday-culture

Certain readers who only know me online have accused our family of going overboard. But actually our lives very much resemble this article. Korean culture is a part of our daily lives. We know about and include modern Korean culture in our lives, as well as celebrate traditional Korean culture. We cook Korean food on a regular basis. J takes taekwondo and goes to Korean school. We’re all learning the language. He’s excited about visiting Korea in the near future. And he has mentors who can help him navigate what it means to be a Korean America as he grows.

But J’s life isn’t filled only with Korean culture. He’s very much American as well. He loves Chick-Fil-A, basketball, super heros, Disney movies, and spaghetti. Through homeschooling and vacations, he’s learning about other cultures as well and is currently fascinated with American Indians after a recent trip to New Mexico.

Our family has found a real balance that works for us. J loves his Koreanness and is proud of his heritage. He’s comfortable around people who look like him, as well as other people of color and Caucasians. I believe that these attitudes are a result of starting culture when he was very young. It’s always been a part of our family, and likely always will be. Of course, some things will change  and as J matures we’ll navigate the changes that come with age.

I encourage all adoptive families to make culture a part of their daily lives, and find a balance that works for them.

11
May
12

Loving Where We Are

This time six years ago we were about six weeks into our adoption journey. We started this journey with me thinking that we were entering a community of cohesiveness–where all families embraced culture, talked about race, and learned the languages of their children’s birth. Naive, wasn’t I? At six weeks in, I was beginning to realize that the adoption community didn’t all think like I did, but I didn’t yet realize what a misfit I would really be in this community.

For five years I fought trying to find a place in the adoption world. A place were we felt accepted, understood, encouraged, supported. I tried to convince other parents that they needed to be doing more when it came to culture, race, and language. I did this not only because it was truly what I believed but also because I wanted to be a part of the community. But it didn’t work and in the end our community has come from a very different place.

Many things have changed in the last year and some of those changes I would never have anticipated. The biggest change for me has been a change in attitude. Over the course of the last year, I’ve become less involved in online adoption communities and no longer lament my lack of acceptance. But it is only recently that I’ve realized just how much my attitude has changed. I truly no longer care what others think. I don’t feel the need to spend time trying to convince people about adoption-related parenting. I’m still happy to encourage and help those who are interested but I’d rather spend my time doing for my family and friends instead of trying to make headway into a community where I obviously don’t fit. I attribute this change in attitude to five things.

1. My age. I’m now over 40 and feel that the journey I’ve been on since I became a mother has really allowed me to accept who I am and what I believe and value. With maturity comes wisdom, and I feel that’s what I’ve experienced in the last year. I’m completely comfortable with how we’re parenting and feel that we truly are doing what’s best for J.

2. Experience. As our son gets older, we are beginning to see more what he needs and wants when it comes to his birth culture and in the last year, he’s wanted more. I guess it’s kind of a chicken-egg situation: which came first? I don’t know whether he wants more exposure because it’s who he is inside or because of the experiences we’ve given him. I suspect it’s probably a little of both. But whatever the reason, our parenting style seems to working for J. He loves his Koreaness and is comfortable talking about adoption with us. He’s already processing things and seems to be working through them so he’s in a good place.

3. Friends. In the last year, we’ve developed a close friendship with one adoptive family. They too embrace the culture and are learning the language as a family. I’ve discovered that one close friend who understands and values the same things we do is more important for me than the general acceptance of the larger community. (Of course, through online communities we’ve made a few friends across the country who are like us and I’m very thankful for Facebook and e-mail so we can be a part of each others’ lives.)

4. Community. In the last year, we’ve found our community. It wasn’t the local adoption community but instead is the local Korean American community. The more people in the community learn about us and our feelings about J’s birth culture, the more we’ve found acceptance. We’ve made true friendships, and being a part of this community has made a huge difference in how J sees himself. He’s one of the top students in his Korean school class, which surprised his teacher since he has caucasian parents. They’ve seen that our commitment is deep and true; we want to be a part of this community not just have the community be a resource for us.

5. Validation. Everyone needs some validation; it’s just part of the human experience. But what I’ve discovered in the last year is that validation from people I respect means more than acceptance from those I was trying to convince. In the last nine months of so, we’ve made a couple of connections with families in Korea. Our lifestyle–embracing the Korean culture and language–played a big part in our hosting a Korean exchange student. The student’s family felt that the connection to Korean culture would be important during a year abroad and resulted in the student being placed with our family. Then my short stint returning to the work force also resulted in getting to another Korean family. As we talked this coworker was surprised at our knowledge and love for the culture but that surprise led to a respect for what we are doing. We didn’t decide to live this life or parent this way to gain the respect and validation of others; we did it because we feel it was best for J. But it has been nice to have our decision respected by those in J’s birth country.

That fact is I’m really loving where we are as a family in our adoption journey. Some parts have been a long time coming. But we plugged along even when we felt alone, laying the foundation on which to build. Now we’re building on that foundation. I’m so thankful we didn’t give up. The next year promises more changes, likely including a move. My prayer is that even in a new place we’ll be able to continue building on that foundation adding friends and community as we go.

29
Feb
12

Who Do You Think You Are?

So lately I’ve been following a thread on a discussion board titled “When adoptive parenting becomes psychological abuse,” which is a discussion of a blog post written by Third Mom. You can read her original post here: http://thirdmom.blogspot.com/2012/02/when-adoptive-parenting-becomes.html. Some of these discussion thread responses prompted my Doing Culture posts last week. Then last night another concept came up–about what really contributes to who we are–which was something I’d already been thinking about for months.

The concept that was introduced was this: that who we are inside is a result of where we grow up, regardless of where we were born. While I agree with some of what this parent says about our children–that they can overcome the hurts of the past–I disagree with the main premise of the argument, and not just for adoptees. [An aside here in case you go read the post. This parent also says that at some point our children should be taught to not dwell on the past (which I agree with) but instead to be "thankful for the life that they have" and look to the future and what it holds for them. While I want my son to be thankful for all GOD has given him, I'll never teach him that he has to be thankful for me and the life we've given him. That life came with a lot of loss and however he chooses to feel about it is OK. Likely his whole life will be a mixture of gratitude for what he has, sorrow for what he lost, and questions about what might have been.]

This statement that it’s where you grow up that makes you who you are made me think of the show on TV right now “Who Do You Think You Are?”, in which celebrities delve into their genealogy and the various family lines. During the intro the narrator says, “You can’t really know who you are, if not you don’t know where you came from.” I’m attracted to this show for so many reasons. I’ve loved genealogy for years and I’m fascinated by the historical context of the show.

But something strikes me in almost every episode. In each one of these episodes the celebrities feel they are changed by what they find out. Most have feelings or interests or personality traits verified for them. This show isn’t about where they grew up, but the DNA that is part of them. It’s about the lineage that is part of making them who they are.

I once saw an interview with Chris Rock, the comedian, after he’d done a similar search on a PBS show called “African American Lives.” Rock found out that his ancestors before Civil Rights included a state legislator, land owners, and a Civil War soldier. Rock said he felt that if he’d known that while he was growing up, it would have changed what he thought about himself and what he felt he could accomplish.

The place where Rock grew up left him feeling that he had little options for success. But his lineage showed him the strength and perseverance that populated his family tree and helped him understand himself better.

To me that emphasized that where we are born and the family we’re born into makes a huge impact on who were are. As I’ve watched our son grown, I’ve determined that neither nature or nurture is more important–instead they are equally a part of who our son is.

He’s very interested in Korea. Is that only because we’ve exposed him to it? Or is it because that’s part of who he is and we’ve nurtured that part of him? I’ll never know for sure. But I do know that for our son, being Korean is already a big part of who he thinks he is.

Watching “Who Do You Think You Are?” also makes me sad. Most adoptees will never have the information needed to pursue these types of searches into their biological families. Given that we have some contact with our son’s birth family, maybe he’ll have some of those opportunities in the future but right now I can’t give him specifics about his birth lineage.

Instead what I can give him is general information. I can help him know what it means to be Korean–to know things almost every Korean knows (songs, language, culture, food, customs), and to have role models who have walked the path before him and can help guide him as he figures out what it means to be Korean-American.

Ultimately it’s not my choice to decide who our son is and what’s important to him. But I honestly feel that for him to make informed decisions along those lines as he grows, he must have some knowledge of where he comes from. Only when he knows everything that he is can he truly know and embrace his past, present, and future.

22
Feb
12

Doing Culture, Part 3: What Does It Mean to be Korean American?

Following up on the post about doing culture, I thought I’d share what I’ve been learning over the last year. A couple of comments I’ve heard recently have been along these lines: You as caucasian American parents can’t really give back to your child the culture he’s lost, right? And he won’t really be seen as Korean anyway since he has white parents, right?

Well, yes and no to both questions. It’s true that I’ll never be able to give back to J all of what he lost when he joined our family. He will never know what it feels like to grow up with parents who look like him. He’ll likely never know the depth of his Korean lineage (although we’re in contact with some members of his birth family so he might learn parts someday). He won’t experience growing up in a Korean or even a fully Korean-American household. But what I can do is give him back what I can. I can have him learn the language and learn it with him. I can learn, teach, and find others to help us understand the customs that all Koreans know. We can explore the country’s history together; celebrate its holidays; and delve into its modern culture.

Which leads into the second question: So what? Real Koreans won’t see him as Korean anyway so why put out all that effort. This argument is a fairly new one to me, but looking back I can see that it has probably been the attitude of some Korean Americans we’ve met. As we’ve interacted with local Korean American community over the years, surprise would describe the initial reaction we got from many. Surprise that we know some words and phrases. Surprise that we like Korean food. Surprise that we know the dramas, music, musicians, actors, and actresses. And that surprise isn’t just that my husband and I know these things, but also that J knows them. They likely didn’t see him as Korean; at least, not initially.

That’s where I think that we as parents can have so much impact. It’s true that people don’t expect J to know Korean things since he has white parents. But once they realize that he does know, they look at our family differently and I believe they view him differently. In the last six months, we’ve encountered three different Korean American families who initially treated us only with indifference. Even in situations where we were in close physical proximity, eye contact was avoided as if to say we weren’t really there. Then at different times we’ve run into these families at places they probably didn’t expect us to be: Korean school and a local Korean restaurant. Immediately that attitude of indifference changed and in all three cases the families at least said “hi” to us and in one case we had a whole conversation.

Will J ever be a Korean Korean (meaning someone who grew up in the Korean culture in Korea)? Of course not. But our Korean American friends’ kids aren’t that either. Even with parents of Korean descent, these kids are definitely American and noted as such when they visit South Korea (including the ones that are fluent in the language, although some of J’s friends with Korean American parents speak less Korean than he does).

I believe with all my heart that we as adoptive parents put out the effort to embrace, learn, and teach the birth cultures of our children that they can be seen as “Korean” by others of that ethnicity (or Chinese or Ethiopian or whatever). It won’t be as if they never left that country, but they can have much of the same knowledge that others do. But to do that we can’t see our children as “just American.”

Over the course of the last year, we’ve really started to find our way in the local Korean American community. This is probably the most important step in J being seen as “Korean” because he’s learning from others of Korean descent not just us who are admittedly learning as we go. It’s taken us five years but we’re now finding a community that is all that I’d hoped it would be. And you know the most important thing I’ve learned from this community we’re becoming a part of: it’s that there is no “one way” to be a Korean American.

No two people we’ve become friends with have the same story. We have Korean American friends born to Korean American parents in the town where we live and have never been to Korea. These friends don’t have Korean names and knew little of the culture or langauge growing up but have embraced it as adults and are teaching their children about it now. We have Korean American friends who immigrated here as adults and still cook Korean food every day at home. Some of these families have children who were born here that love Korean food and culture, while some of the children think of themselves as fully American. We know mixed-race Korean Americans and Korean Americans who are adoptees.

And I love that our son is seeing that there isn’t one definition of what it means to be Korean American. “Being Korean” can and does mean many different things–and none of them are right or wrong. Some may think that’s the best reason to wait and see what our child’s interest is in his birth culture. I say it’s the best reason to begin building a foundation of knowledge that will allow J as he grows to make his own definition of what “being Korean” means to him.




My Korean Culture Blog

Just a reminder that if you want to learn more about Korean culture (both traditional and pop culture), language resources, and cooking, check out my other blog: thekoreanway.wordpress.com It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

Favorite Korean Movies-TV Shows

Be Strong, Geum-Soon
Please Teach Me English
Spy Girl
Tae Gu Ki
Chunhyang
2009 Lost Memories

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2worlds1familyblog at gmail dot com

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