Archive for June, 2009


Myth No. 2 (about International Adoption)

2. Our child is just American. It’s true that children who are raised in America will be American. But in America, at this present time, any person of color isn’t just an American.

A family member recently posed that question to me when I said it’s nice to have a president who is a person of color. He said, “Why can’t we just be Americans? Why do we have to be African Americans and Asian Americans?” My response was that as long as there are people in America who treat people of color differently, there will be a need for people of color to define themselves in a postive light. (At least it’s my view that our current labels for various ethnic groups came about because others chose to use derogatory terms to describe them.)

And that’s one reason our transnationally adopted kids aren’t just Americans. While they live our communities, maybe they can just be Jim and Jane. But once they leave that insulated community, they’ll first be seen as Asian Americans or Latino Americans. Certain stereotypes will be assigned to them. I’ve heard so many adult adoptees talk about how many times they’re told they have such good English.

Another reason that aren’t just Americans is that biologically they are 100 percent something else. I know this gets into the whole nature v. nurture discussion, but I believe there are somethings that are going to be inherent in our son just because he’s biologically Korean (his height, for example). And if our kids return to their birth countries, people there will have certain expectations too. They look Korean, so why can’t they speak the language?

That’s why our kids need to know about race in America, need mentors who can help them understand what it means to be Asian/Latino/Black in America, need to have some knowledge of their birth countries, speak their birth language. Yes, they are American, but they’re so much more.


Learn to Sing in Korean

Singing is a great way to introduce language to kids. Or so I hear. Our kid sure seems to be picking up Korean now and sings the songs he knows over and over. The Teach Me Tapes series is one way to introduce Korean songs into your daily lives. Or, if you’d like to get started before shelling out any cash, YouTube is a great option. In this post I’ve included some of our favorite Korean songs and link to a YouTube video for each. When possible I’ve also included the lyrics in hangul, romanized, and English.

Tadpole Song
개울가에 올챙이 한마리
꼬물꼬물 헤엄치다
뒷다리가 쑥~ 앞다리가 쑥~
팔딱팔딱 개구리됐네
꼬물꼬물 꼬물꼬물
꼬물꼬물 올챙이가
뒷다리가 쑥~ 앞다리가 쑥~
팔딱팔딱 개구리됐네

Gae eulga e olchangi han mari
GGomul GGomul hae umchi da
dweet dariga ssok~ appdariga ssok~
palddak palddak gaeguri dwetne~
Ggomul ggomul(3x) olchangi ga
dweet dariga ssok~appdariga ssok~
palddak palddak gaeguri dwetne
In a little stream, there’s a tadpole.
Wriggle, wriggle wriggles around.
Hindlegs out, forelegs out,
hoping, hoping, he became a frog.
wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, a tadpole.
hindlegs out, forelegs out,
hoping, hopping, he became a frog.
곰세마리가 한집에있어
아빠곰 엄마곰 애기곰

아빠곰은 뚱뚱해
엄마곰은 날씬해
애기곰은 너무귀여워
히쭉히쭉 잘한다

곰세마리가 한집에있어
아빠곰 엄마곰 애기곰

아빠곰은 뚱뚱해
엄마곰은 날씬해
애기곰은 너무귀여워
히쭉히쭉 잘한다 –

kom se ma-ri-ga
han chi-be-i-so
appa gom
omma gom
ae-gi gom
appa gommun dung-dung-hae
omma gommun nal-shi-nae
ae-gi gommun no mu-gwi-yo-wo
eeshuk eeshuk cha-han-da
There are three bears in a house,
Father bear, Mommy bear, baby bear!
Daddy bear is fatty,
Mommy bear is slim,
Baby bear is too cute!
Shrug! Shrug!* You are doing well!
First Verse:
산토끼 토끼야 어디를 가느냐
깡총깡총 뛰면서 어디를 가느냐
Second Verse:
산고개 고개를 나혼자 넘어서
토실토실 알밤을 주워서 올테야
First Verse:
San-toki, toki-ya
Uh-dee-reul gah-neu-nyah?
Kang-choong, kang-choong tee-myun-suh
Uh-dee-reul gah-neu-nyah?
Second Verse:
San-go-gae go-gae-reul
Nah-hon-jah nuhm-uh-suh
to-shil to-shil ahl-bahm-eul
Joo-wuh-suh ol-tae-yah
First Verse:
Mountain bunny, bunny
Where are you going?
Bouncing, bouncing as you’re running.
Where are you going?
Second Verse:
Over the mountain peaks, peaks
I will climb them on my own
Plump, plump chestnuts
I will find and bring
Saranghae (I Love You song)
saranghae nanun neorul saranghae
saranghae nanun neorul saranghae

saranghae saranghae saranghae saranghae
nanun neorul saranghae

I wish I’d known more of these when our son came home. While the pronunciation wouldn’t be exact, I believe hearing some of the familiar words might have helped him feel safer.

Myth No. 3 about International Adoption

3. Love is enough. Just treat adopted kids the same as you would biological kids and they’ll be fine. This is what I thought before I became an adoptive parent. And now people bristle when I say that raising adopted kids is different. Yet, it is. That’s not that they don’t have chores to do or aren’t disciplined for misbehavior. But as adoptive parents, I believe we need always be aware of our child’s actions, reactions, and feelings, knowing that each child deals with adoption in very different ways.

Now that I’m a parent, I’m actually thinking that really love isn’t enough for biological kids either. Parenting should be about developing a deep understanding of each individual child, their feelings, dreams, and desires. What teenager doesn’t long to be understood by their parents?

So many adoptive parents want to believe that adoption is a one-time event. The child comes home, the adoption is final, everything is good. And while it may seem that way in the parents’ lives, adoption may be an everyday event for the adoptee. Whether it’s because they look different or because school kids remind them their family is different or because they think about their Korea family, the fact that they’re adopted may never been too far from our kids’ minds.

They may have lots of questions about why they were adopted, why you as parents decided to adopt, and why they have to live a family that’s different.

And that’s why we as parents need to be open to talking with our kids about what their feelings. They need help processing the feelings they have and understanding what those feelings mean. Love alone isn’t enough.


It’s Starting Already

Before becoming a parent I had no idea kids processed such big things at such young ages. But in the last month and a half, our son (who’s 3.5) has started asking about race, adoption, and why we look different.

Just last night at the dinner table we were talking about how much our son enjoys fruit, and how fruit is something most Korean people enjoy eating. And he said, “So I’m Korean, I shouldn’t live with you.”

It stopped me in my tracks. If you’ve read any of my recent posts, you know that we’ve been having a hard time with behavior lately. I’m sure part of it is age, but comments like that one are what make me wonder if a lot of his behavior is him processing our differences, how permanent our family is, and probably more that I don’t realize yet.

So in response I started going through several of our adopted friends and their families talking about how their parents aren’t Guatemalan or Columbian but they’re still families. At first he persisted, “I should live with people I look like.” So we kept talking about how all families don’t look the same but they’re still families. And how we have a special paper that says we’re his mommy and daddy and that no one can take him away from us. (Just last week I made him copies of the adoption decree for him to look at and explained what it said.) And how even though daddy and I aren’t Korean we like Korean things, including food, music, and TV shows, just like he does. He got really excited about how we all enjoy Korean things.

Then I asked him who people live with, and he said mommies and daddies. And since we have this special paper saying we’re his mommy and daddy, I asked, who should he live with? And he pointed to us. Then we were on to other subjects.

In early April, our son brought up race for the first time. Over the last several months, we’ve been reading books about different skins colors but this was the first indication I had that he was seeing those difference. We were going to meet some friends of ours, who are African-American, and as we’re driving he said, “Mom, M is dark brown.” I said that yes M is dark brown and then on a very elementary level I explained about melanin to him. We talked about how M has more melanin in his skin than J does, and how J has more in his skin than mommy does. And how the color of skin doesn’t really make us different because on the inside we have the same things (hearts, lungs, brain, etc.) and God loves us all the same.

I read a lot of forums and blogs and such and find it interesting that so many adoptive parents say that their older transracially adopted children (elementary-school age) aren’t processing these weighty subjects. Of course, all kids develop on their own schedules so maybe some just have gotten to that yet. But there maybe a couple of other explanations.

One could me that the kids are thinking about these important subjects but don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about them. Another explanation could be that the children aren’t really encountering people who look like them or people of other ethnicities. Or it could be a little of both.

While I don’t always feel as prepared as I should be for these converations with J, I’m glad that he’s talking about them. We always want him to feel comfortable talking to us about his adoption, how he feels about race, and his birth culture.


현충일 (Hyeonchung-il)–Korean Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the Republic of Korea; the day to remember those who lost their lives in wars or the independence movement. Nationally it seems to be celebrated much the same way Memorial Day is in the U.S.–flags at half-staff and a ceremony at the National Cemetery. (Read this post for a little more information.) And sadly my family has a link to Hyeonchung-il that is separate from my son.

Growing up I used to spend a few weeks each summer with my grandparents. They lived in the country in Oklahoma and I loved being there to enjoy their garden and just spend time with the greatest grandparents in the world. In the hall of their home hung a photo of a handsome young man in uniform. The photo and it’s ornate frame were damaged with age, but the photo fascinated me none the less. It greeted me each morning as I went to the kitchen for breakfast. I knew the photo was of my grandfather’s younger brother, and that he was killed in a war. I knew that his mother never believed he died and always thought one day he’d walk through the door. But being young, the details of which war and how he died didn’t really seem important to me.

A few years ago I got into geneaology and finally thought to ask my grandparents more about the young soldier. With the information from them, I was able through Internet searches to find out more. Here’s what I learned.

Uncle Billie was part of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment, First Cavalry Division of the Army, one of the first to enter the Korean War. Between mid-August and mid-September 1950, the 7th Cavalry Regiment was defending the Pusan perimeter against the invading North Korean army. Pusan (now romanized as Busan) is located on the southeastern tip of the Korean pennisula, meaning that in a little more than two months, the North Korean army had taken control of almost the entire Repuplic of Korea.

On September 10th, the 7th Cavalry Regiment was in the Kumho River Valley northeast of the Taegu Airfield. It was here that Uncle Billie, while driving a Jeep, was shot in the head by a sniper. Billie’s body arrived back in Oklahoma, but the family was told that the physical damage was so severe that the casket shouldn’t be open. Because my great-grandmother couldn’t see him for herself, she never fully accepted his death. Billie had just turn 20 years old less than a month before the Korea War began on June 25, 1950.

In September 2006, 56 years after Billie died, his death became even more real to me. As I walked around Seoul, I realized that without men like my uncle–Korean, American, and other Allies–and the sacrifices they made, I would not have been able to walk those streets, to take in the Korean culture. And I wondered what would have happened to my son’s Korean family. As we all know, life under the Kim, Il-sung/Kim, Jong-il goverment has not been easy for the people of North Korea.

Korea’s history hasn’t been an easy one. Decades of Japanese occupation, World War II, and the Korean War have left scars both emotional and physical. And that’s just in the last century. So today there’s a lot to remember. And as I look at my Korean-born son today I’ll think about Billie and all of those who fought for Korea throughout it’s history. And when I encounter Korean War veterans, I’ll remember to thank them; their service and sacrifices mean a lot to our family.


Myth No. 4 about International Adoption

In my ongoing look at myths about international adoption, today I’ll look at what I feel is No. 4 in the top five.

4. You son’s so lucky; he’ll have a much better life here in America. This is one that many adoptive parents hear over and over. And there’s so much wrong with attitude.

Honestly, in any transnational adoption who has the right to say that living in America with white parents is better than growing up in your birth culture, with your birth language, and people who look like you. While internationally-adopted kids may have more material things here and maybe more educational opportunities, there is a lot of baggage that can come with separating from families, losing your first culture, language, and becoming an ethnic minority in America.

I feel this attitude also shows an ignorance on the part of Americans about the world outside their own borders. For example, South Korea is the 11th largest economy in the world. Being in Seoul is like being in New York City. It isn’t national poverty that brings Korean children to live with families in America; it’s the culture of paternal blood lines. But some Americans still feel that we’ve rescued this child from this foreign country.

No one can say for sure what kind of lives our kids would have had in their birth countries. We can explain attitudes and living conditions to them, but really have no right to assume there their lives are better here. For some it’s true; for some maybe not.

I think it depends largely on the child and his or her needs that determine whether life in America is better. When our children are grown, some may feel that it would have been better to grow up in their native countries surrounded by people who look like them even if that meant living in an orphange.

While they’ll have every right to feel that way, none of us really knows what that parallel life might have been like. We can speculate but that’s all because, as noted in a previous posts, our adopting them has changed them.

International adoption is complicated, especially for our children. It’s important not to simplify things too much or try to see it only through rose-colored glasses. We must remember that America isn’t superior to our children’s birth country. It’s just different.


Building a Library for Parents

Ask any adoption expert, and most seasoned APs, and they’ll tell you that education is a huge part of parenting an internationally adopted child. Several of my recent posts have touched on how adoptive parenting is different from parenting biological children.

While I have pages at the top of the blog listing great books for families with internationally adopted children, I thought I’d include an entry about building a library. I’ve found that some books are good to read only once while others you’re going to want to have around for years to come. And I realize that some people aren’t readers, so I’ll start the list with books for the non-readers and build it up for those who read anything and everything.

You’re not a reader, and don’t want anything too in-depth
Beyond Good Intentions by Cheri Register is the book for you. This diary-sized book lists 10 pitfalls that parents of internationally adopted kids can fall into. It gives you enough information to make you think, but not enough to overwhelm. This one is an easy read, and can be put down and returned to without losing the train of thought. It would be a one good one to check out from the library.

You want in-depth info but only plan to read one such book
Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child by Patty Cogen is just the book you’re looking for. Don’t be scared of the academic look of the book. It’s well organized so you can find chapters that relate to what you’re experiencing. And it covers your first hours together as a family through the teen years. This one is an invaluable resource and well worth the investment of purchasing it.

You’re interested having a couple of different prespectives
Again you’ll want Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child.
The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis has some of the same information the above title does but it’s presented differently. This book includes lots of information about teaching your children to be respectful and about correcting their behavior, even if they have complicated backgrounds.
Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? by Donna Jackson Nakazawa will help you have a deeper understanding of racial issues your child will face. While it’s not exclusively about transracially adopted children, many of the people she talks to are adoptees. The book centers on how children of mixed-race families process race and the information is broken down by age group. She gives lots of talking poings so conversations about race aren’t as intimidating as they can be without guidance.

If you’re building a full library, consider these:
Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum delves more deeply into racial identity. It’s a great compliment to Nakazawa’s book.
• Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox by Jean MacLeod and Sheena Macrae is another title that covers everything from food to language to sleep.
• Adoptive Parenting From the Ground Up by Katie Prigel Sharp explains brain development and how it applies to adoptive families. Some of the other titles (Cogen’s and Purvis’s books) cover this as well but this title may be a little more concise than the other two, which cover a variety of other subjects as well.
• Becoming a Family by Lark Eshleman 
• Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge
Cross-Cultural Adoption by Amy Coughlin and Caryn Abramowitz is a great book to give family and friends—it helps them answer questions about adoption and gives both answers for young children and adults.
Dim Sum, Bagels, & Grits by Myra Alperson covers the importance of becoming a multicultural family with ideas on how your home and life can be a reflection of your now multiracial family.
Being Adopted by David Brodzinsky describes how children feel about adoption at different ages.
My advice would be check these titles out from your local library first or try to borrow them from another adoptive family. Then buy the titles that you feel are most relevant and helpful to your family. That way you’ll be investing in the books that will help you the most.

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: It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

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

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