Archive for February, 2010


Festivities and Remembrance

Seollal (lunar new year) festivities are winding up this weekend. While the main holiday is celebrated for three days, lunar new year celebrations continue until Tae Bo Rum, the first full moon festival of the new year. Tae Bo Rum normally occurs two weeks after Seollal, and this year it falls on Feb. 28.

The traditional dish served for Tae Bo Rum is a five grain dish. You can find a recipe for it here.

Then Monday, March 1, is Independence Movement Day in Korea. It commemorates the demonstrations that took place on March 1, 1919, when Koreans protested the occupation of their country by the Japanese. More than 7,000 Koreans were killed that day.

Wikipedia has a good entry on this Korean day of remembrance, which can be found here.


A Precious Gift

What a week it’s been in our household (and it’s only Wednesday)! Since this is an adoption blog, I won’t go into details but it’s safe to say that changes are on the horizon for our family. Changes that we’ve been hoping for and praying about for a couple of years now.

On top of news we received about upcoming changes, yesterday we received a very precious gift–photos and a letter from our son’s birth family.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that just a few months ago I blogged about the frustration of trying to establish contact with the birth family in an international adoption (“First Families” entry, October 2009). We’ve actually been trying since we were in Korea three and half years ago picking up our son.

For two years we sent letters and photos not knowing if the birth family was receiving them. Finally we learned that the birth family had checked the file. It was progress and inspired me to sent photos and letters on a regular and frequent basis.

Then yesterday we received an e-mail from our agency that contained both a letter and photos from the birth family. We were floored! It’s one of those things you hope for but aren’t sure you’ll ever receive. Our son was excited to see photos of his Korean family. He’s quite the artist these days so today he had to draw pictures for them that we could send drawings with our next letter.

As I said in my previous post, I realize that for some it’s controversial for adoptive parents to establish contact with the birth family. I’ve been of the opinion that what’s not established now, but may well be lost forever. The story of our son’s placement is somewhat different, and because of what it is, we’ve thought all along that having this connection early would be important for him as he grows. If communication continues between our families, as we hope it will, our son will certainly be able to end that contact if he wants to when he’s older. It is his family and that will be his choice.

But in the meantime we hope that now his Korean family is more real to him. Early on he understood who his foster family was because we had photos of them. But it’s been hard for him to comprehend a family that he hasn’t been able to see at all. Hopefully as he grows and has questions, he’ll be able to find the answers.

Yeah, it’s just a letter and some photos. But honestly it’s probably the best e-mail I’ve ever received!


A Million and a Half Ways–A Lesson in Adoption Parenting

I recently saw this quote on a friend’s Facebook page, “The most important thing she’d learned over the years was that there was no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” — Jill Churchill

Well, if there are 1 million ways to be a good parent to biological kids, I believe there must be 1.5 million ways to be a good adoptive parent. Parenting an adopted child, as I’ve said before, is just different. Honestly, bio children would probably be better off if their parents learned the things that adoptive parents are taught. So much of adoptive parenting is about being in-tune with your child and being honest and open with them. And what child couldn’t benefit from that type of parental relationship.

I’ve just finished reading Sherrie Eldridge’s newest book, 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed. It’s now on my “must read” list for adoptive parents. If you’ve done much reading on adoption, you’ll be familiar with most of the 20 things. But Eldridge’s book pulls so much information together–about grief, honesty, birth parents, hope, mixed feelings, and so much more.

Every chapter ends with a couple of sections that are the real jewels of this book, in my opinion. One of those sections titled “Listen to Your Child’s Heart” describes how your adopted children may feel about that chapter’s subject as a child, teen, and adult. Next comes the “Draw Closer–Action Steps for Parents and Kids” section. This section describes activities, books, and conversations that can help us foster intimacy with our children. And lastly, each chapter ends with a page of Support Group Discussion Questions, which make this an excellent choice for an adoption-related book club.

Many of the messages in Eldridge’s book are hard for adoptive parents to hear. But the book doesn’t leave you feeling inadequate for the journey. It leaves you feeling empowered, having given you tools and resources to assist in on your unique parenting journey.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that our son has been struggling off and on since last spring with his permanence in our family. As I’ve asked around, I’ve found that some of his questions may be age-related, as children around age 4 start trying to figure out how each member of the family fits (my mom is his grandmother, for example). But my gut has been telling me it’s something more.

My heart aches each time my son asks me to “protect” him, usually when he’s only going to the next room in the house. He’s definitely attached to me and my husband, but it seems to me that his connection is strained and he doesn’t feel as secure as could. After reading books like Eldridge’s and Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child by Patty Cogen, I understand better what types of situations may cause strain on J’s connection to us. Gaining independence is one such situation, which is exactly what 4-year-old yearn to do. I think for our son that yearning is causing mixed feelings–“I want to do it by myself but doing that means moving away from needing my parents, which I don’t want to do.”

But having a strained connection was something I had no understanding of when we were early in our adoption journey. Like many parents, I thought once we’d formed a bond with our son, we were good to go. Now I know that adoption parenting isn’t that easy and goes far beyond forming that initial bond.

It’s really about those 1.5 million things you can do to best parent your child. In general some of those things when parenting a transracial adoptee are understanding race and racism; being open about loss and trauma of adoption; being willing to put yourself in situations where you are the minority; helping your child form a connection with his birth country and language; and understanding that love is not enough.

It’s true that not every adoptee will need the same things. Effective adoptive parenting, I believe, comes when you’re educated enough to know how your child might feel in certain situations or about certain issues; when you can recognize a reaction for what it truly is, instead of passing it off as “too sensitive” or “ridiculous.”

Pre-adoption education is great, but it’s just the beginning. Once your child is home your education MUST continue. Read books about adoption, especially those that are hardest to read. Read blogs by adult adoptees. Learn all you can about how what adoptees are thinking.

That’s how you’ll find the 1.5 million ways you can be a good parent to your child or children.


Fugitive Visions

I love that adult adoptees are speaking out as never before. They’re finding their voices, relating their experiences, and becoming a vital part of the conservation on international adoption. And I’m thankful because good experiences or bad, I can learn from them. At this point, I have no idea how my son will feel about adoption when he’s older. But these adoptees give a glimpse into their feelings so I have a better understanding of the emotions and thoughts that many adoptees have.

That’s why I was so interested to read, Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee’s Return to Korea by Jane Jeong Trenka. A couple of years ago, I’d read Trenka’s first book, Language of Blood. But that memoir ended before she had returned to live in Korea. Trenka has been outspoken in her criticism of international adoption and currently works with TRACK (Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoptive Community in Korea) to advocate for adoptee rights. This is one author some adoptive parents want to avoid. But honestly I find I learn the most from listening to the stories that are hardest to hear.

And Trenka’s story is, in many ways, hard to hear. As an adoptive parent you don’t want to imagine a future in which your child is no longer speaking to you. (Trenka hasn’t seen or spoken to her American parents in years).

As an adoptive parent, you don’t want to hear how Trenka feels as if she fits nowhere. In culture and attitude she’s American. Yet as an Asian American she’s never felt fully accepted in the US. In biology she’s Korean. Yet unlike Koreans who have grown up in Korean families, she doesn’t speak the same language or know the cultural nuisances of Korea.

We don’t want to imagine a future in which our children struggle. All parents want life to be easy for their children, yet there’s little about adoption and growing up in a multiracial family that is easy.

Fugitive Visions chronicles Trenka’s return to Korea to live. While the first book was about growing up in a predominately white town in Minnesota, this book touches on that as well. It includes Trenka’s reconnection with her older sister (the two were adopted together into the same American family). It discusses her relationships with her biological family and with other adoptees who are living in Korea. Here are some things from this memoir that stood out to me.

After struggling with her relationship with her mother, as an adult Trenka wanted to make peace with her mom. “I told her how it was growing up in that town, how profoundly painful and lonely it was in all that whiteness, and I asked her why she didn’t stand up for me and she said, ‘So what, all kids are mean, everyone gets teased, if they didn’t tease you for being Korean they would have teased you for something else like being fat, so why do you expect special treatment.’ At that moment I knew that my white mother doesn’t see me…doesn’t see how other people see me…chooses to see me without my body…because she can make that choice…she can choose to live in her imagination where I am white too…because I am her daughter…and she does not see that during those eighteen years I lived in her house I was not human… .”

In first-grade, Jane had a book bag that said, “Don’t Bug Me,” which she used to cover her face on the school bus as a defense against bullying. When her mother wanted to get a new bag for second grade, Jane couldn’t explain why she wanted the same bag. Her family had never discussed racial issues or bullying.

“You can’t talk about what you don’t have vocabulary for. That includes not just racial hatred but also racial friendship.” Jane went on to explain how her closest friends in high school were refugees or children of mixed marriages. They connected because their experiences growing up were similar.

And at one point Trenka talks about how she often chastised by Koreans for butchering the language. Yet white adoptive parents who are in Korea to pick up their children are praised for any Korean use speak, no matter how poorly it’s spoken. Trenka’s upbringing more closely resembles those of the American parents, yet the expectations of the Koreans have of her are totally different.

This touched me deeply because I was praised in Korea for what little Korean I could speak. I hate the fact that someday those same people might have a very different reaction to my Korean-born son attempting to speak what should have been his native language.

In many ways, Trenka has had a rough life and the scars of that life run deep. Yet she says many times how much she loves her American parents. It seems she longs to connect with them, but without her parents being able to honestly see her for who she is and what’s she’s experienced, she’s unable to make the connection.

I understand that no parent is perfect, yet every parental generation longs to do better in one area or another than the previous generation. This book made me long to do better; it made me more committed to parent differently than previous generations of adoptive parents. To be open with my son about the loss and sadness of adoption. To try to understand and be emphatic to him if or when he struggles. To become part of the Korean American community, to have diversity surrounding us and have a life that reflects my son. To have him learn the language of his birth and speak it fluently as not having the ability to communicate is one of the biggest barriers adoptees face when returning to their birth countries.

Do I believe that doing that will mean my son won’t struggle? No, I don’t. I understand that even with a different parenting style my son might struggle with his adoption and identity. My goal is to be educated and ready so I can support him if or when that happens.


Adopted: The Movie

A few months back I’d heard the buzz about this movie, but until we got Netflix recently, I didn’t have a way to watch it.  This past weekend it arrived in the mail and my husband and I settled in to watch it. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, but this film exceeded my expectations in a gut-wrenching way.

For those who haven’t seen it, the documentary film follows two families: the Fero family, including 32-year-old Jennifer who was adopted from Korea as an infant, and the Trainer family, who are in the process of adopting from China. It chronicles Jennifer’s search for identity, sparked by learning that her mother has terminal cancer, and the Trainer’s journey to their daughter.

And the similarities are striking. While Jennifer’s adoption took place in 1975 when adoptive parents received little to no training in adoptive parenting, the education received by the Trainers (adopting in 2006) doesn’t seem to be much better or at least hasn’t been taken to heart. Jacqui Trainer admits to owning three attachment books, two of which she skimmed and one that she said she’d read most of. They were depressing, she said, so she decided that she would set them aside, and if she needed them later, she would know where to look for the information.

The Trainers acknowledge that there may be tough times ahead once their daughter comes home–that they will be “turning her world upside down” and that “she’ll be grieving.” But they  feel that they have enough love to cover the hard issues they might face.

In contrast Jennifer’s story is saying that love isn’t enough. She’s conflicted because her parents loved and nurtured her, and she loves her family, yet she says she’s felt empty. “I want my whole identity; my whole life,” Jennifer says. “It’s not rejection of my family; it’s just wanting to be authentic and real.”

Jennifer talks several times about how adoptees are always the ones adapting–from a very early age and possibly over and over. “Families adopt; adoptees adapt. Adoptees are chameleons because they don’t want to be abandoned again,” she said. “So you make sure every thing appears perfect.”

Once the Trainers have their daughter, Roma, home, they say things have been much easier than they’d expected. Roma rarely cries, they say, and she was “fully attached” to her adoptive father on day three of them being a family and warmed up to her adoptive mother by day nine to 10. “I’m sorry, yes, we have the perfect child,” Jacqui says. John adds, “She seems well-rounded. If she has an underlying issue, she’s not made it known.”

Jennifer’s struggles are heart wrenching. She longs for her parents to acknowledge her for who she really is, yet her parents don’t feel it’s necessary to talk about her adoption and race. At one point her father says, “I think she should be thankful she’s here. And I think there’s an overemphasis on the fact that she’s Korean.”

Jennifer’s mother once wonders why Jennifer didn’t share her racial issues with the family as they were happening during her school years. Jennifer says she was too embarrassed by racial taunting in school to talk about it with her family and instead rage began to grow inside her. “I remember being around 12 or 13 and coming out of my room just to yell at my mom. I had so much rage toward her. Because of all the people, a mother should get the angst that I was going through being Asian in a white family and a white community.”

Often in the adoption community, adoptees like Jennifer who are processing what adoption really means for them and who are speaking out about the hard issues that come from adoption are labeled as “angry and bitter.” Yet I don’t see bitterness or anger in Jennifer. I see a wounded little girl who was never allowed to fully grasp what had happened to her.

“This isn’t about what my parents did wrong; I mean look at all the things they did right. It’s about that 9-year-old girl who didn’t have the language. I’m her voice. You can overcompensate and sugar-coat the adoption story … but you’re only getting her because she was abandoned. And she knows that at a younger age than you can image.”

I know that not all international adoptees feel the way Jennifer does, but books and blogs and list-serves have shown me that many have experienced issues similar to those Jennifer details. And while watching Jennifer’s journey made my heart ache for her, I had to wonder how Roma Trainer will feel when she’s older. Will she experience the same emotions? Will she feel that her parents really didn’t understand the journey they embarked on when they brought her home from China? If so, how sad will that be? After all, they have the resources–including adoptees like Jennifer Fero–to help them understand the adoptee’s journey, if only they will listen.

“I don’t have any resentment toward my parents. I feel they did the best they could; they loved me and nurtured me,” Jennifer says. “If people adopt today, I expect them to do better.”

And that’s the question really. Is this current generation of adoptive parents doing it better? Have we learned from adoptees who have been through the struggle? Are we changing the way we parent so it encompasses all of who are children are?

My hope is that we are; my fear is that not enough are hearing the message. I’m thankful for Jennifer and other adoptees who are speaking out, sharing the most intimate of journeys to help me better parent my son. And I hope I am doing “better.”

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