Archive for the 'our story' Category


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 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!



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!


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.


Nature vs. Nuture

I’m a curious sort of person. It’s just part of who I am. And lately I’ve been wondering a lot about nature versus nurture. Our son, as most of you know already, is very into his Koreanness right now. K-pop music, wearing his Korean shirts, using the language he knows, taking taekwondo, eating the food. And, of course, my husband and I have no problem with this. We’ve nurtured that Korean pride in him.

But I do wonder, what if we hadn’t nurtured it? Would our son at some point feel that a part of him was or had been suppressed?

He’s always recognized those who look like him. As a baby his eyes would follow Asians, and when he started talking he decided everyone of Asian descent was from Korea like him. We didn’t have to introduce the fact that he looked Asian; we just gave it context and explained about other Asian countries and some of the characteristics Asian people share.

So I tend to believe that even if we hadn’t introduced Korean things to him, he would have felt something was missing especially as he got older and was able to explore the culture on his own.

I hear so many adoptive families say their kids (of similar age) have no interest in Korean things and I wonder why mine does. Is it simply that he’s been exposed to it in positive ways that include our whole family? And that maybe these other kids if similarly exposed would have developed a similar interest? Or is it just part of who he is, and God in his infinite wisdom knew this child would need to be with a family that would allow and encourage and help him embrace that part of him?

I don’t know. And I guess I never well. We’ve chosen to embrace the culture and learn the language. We didn’t have to, but that’s how we thought best to parent this child. And I still believe in my heart that it is best. Even when others criticize me for it.


The Adoptive Parenting Puzzle

During my five years in the adoption community, there are a couple of things that I’ve heard over and over. One is “If my child shows an interest in (culture/language/birth family/etc.), we’ll certainly help him/her explore that.” Second is “There’s no right or wrong way to parent; not every kid needs the same things.” I believe I’ve posted my arguments against both of these statements before so no need to go into too much depth on those again. But the recent experiences we’ve had with our son have gotten me thinking about these statements again.

I’ve started to see parenting our son like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. When our son came home, we began putting together the edge pieces of the puzzle starting with the corners: language, culture/customs, food, and adoption/race/birth family. We knew a few words and phrases in Korean and used them with our son from the day he came home, plus we listened to CDs and watched Korean kids’ shows. We celebrated our first Korean holiday together when our son had been home three weeks and observed certain customs and had Korean food as part of our celebration. And talking about J’s birth family started in the first days home too. As we’ve learned more Korean, tried new recipes, and explored the culture, we’ve added more edge pieces to our puzzle.

I feel like now the edge of the puzzle is pretty much in place; the foundation is there and now it’s time to build on it. At 5-and-a-half years old, J is helping us put more pieces of the puzzle into place. Based on the foundation provided by those edge pieces, he’s let us know that he needs more, which led us to taekwondo and Korean school.

Parenting an adopted child is an ongoing journey in experimentation, but I truly believe it all should start with those four corners of the puzzle: language, culture/customs, food, and birth family. Having the family participate in and embrace these “corners” is a way of embracing and accepting all of who the adoptee is. It acknowledges the child’s roots without separating the child from the rest of the family, provided that the whole family participates.

But not every child needs the same thing, some adoptive parents insist. That’s true, but that’s what makes these corners of the puzzle are even more important. Not every child will need the same thing, but I think every child needs to have exposure to these things so they can make informed decisions about what they do need. If you begin your puzzle with these corners (and whole family participation), you might find that what you’re doing is just right for your child. Or you might find that your child doesn’t even need as much as you’re doing. Or you might have a child like ours who has let us know that even with all we’ve been doing, it’s not enough for him. But no matter what message your child sends you, if you started early putting down these pieces of the puzzle, you’ll know that he is speaking with some knowledge about his needs.

I think a lot of parents don’t feel that their involvement in culture or language is very important. But I feel it’s vitally important, because I believe that parenting is 75 percent what you do and 25 percent what you say. There are so many facets to this for me. I believe that parents make things “normal” by talking about it and/or participating in it. In my life, leadership by example has always gotten the most results. I’ve never felt that I should ask more of my child than I ask of myself. If learning Korean is important for him, then it should be important for me too.

Sometimes I wonder where J would be if we’d parented him differently. If we’d waited for his to “be interested” in Korea, would he be where he is today–proud of his Koreanness and filled with love for his birth family? Would he be so open with us about his thoughts on adoption, his Korean family, or fitting in? We’ll never now the answers to that but I’m pretty happy with where he is right now so I guess I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Those four foundational corners of our parenting have brought our family together in wonderful ways. Now I’m looking forward to seeing how we, with J’s guidance, fill in the rest of the puzzle pieces to reveal the picture of who J was created to be.


Revisiting “And So It Begins…”

In April I wrote a post about our son wishing he’d never left Korea. He said it a couple of times and once put it this way, “If you wanted me to be happy all the time, you would have left me in Korea.” These comments are never easy to hear as an adoptive parent, even if you know where they are coming from. But over the last six weeks or so lots of things have changed and, as I’ve had more time to reflect more on his comments, I’ve come to some interesting conclusions.

First, those comments pushed us to make more contact with the local Korean American community, which is something we’ve known we needed to do but it’s hard and we hadn’t put in the effort we should have. So now J is taking taekwondo from a Korean American master and is getting to see other Korean Americans on a daily basis. J also attended the last four weeks of our local Korean American school’s spring semester as a trial to see if he’d like to attend full-time in the fall. We’ve had friends whose adopted children have had less-than-positive experiences at the school, but our son loved it and is excited to go full-time in the fall. The school is a mixture of full Korean American families, biracial families, and adoptive families. It’s great that J is getting to see the variety of Korean American families that are out there.

And since making these new connections, we haven’t had any more comments about wishing he’d never left Korea, although J’s continued to say he wants to visit Korea. The month before those comments had been a stressful one with the death of my father-in-law and an unplanned visit to Arkansas for the funeral. While the circumstances of that trip were stressful, I think being round the extended family also just emphasized to J how he’s different, which lead to comments that he needed to be where he “fit.”

Even if I “get” where the comments were coming from, I’m thankful that I believe now he’s feeling more like he belongs here–both in America and in our family. But I’ve also started to look at the comments he made from a different perspective. As I reflected on them one day, I realized that most transracially-adopted kids make similar comments at this age, only they often come from a little different perspective. Most, it seems, say things like, “I wish I looked like  you” or “I wish I had hair like you, Mom” or “I wish I’d grown in your tummy.” They aren’t saying they wished they’d never left their birth countries, but they are still commenting on the desire to fit in.

Our son’s comments about desiring to fit in just took a different direction. And I’ve decided I prefer his direction.  Not because I want him to think he doesn’t belong, but because I believe his take on it says that he’s comfortable being of Korean descent. He didn’t desire to look like my husband or I to fit in; no, he desired to go where he knew he’d look like everyone else as his solution to fitting in. And I think in some ways that has to be healthy. To me it says that he’s got a healthy self-esteem in being Korean, which if you read here much you know he’s really into.

Once he leaves the nest society at-large will see him first as Korean (Asian) American so we’ve always thought it’s important that he knows what that means and is comfortable with it. I’ve never wanted him to think he’s white or wish he were. And as I thought on it more, I think his comments said that thus far we’ve helped him build that foundation of positive self-esteem in his Koreaness, as much as they said that he felt he didn’t really fit in.

That’s not to say that we could just sit back and not address his feelings in some way. I think it said to us that we’ve done OK so far, but that now it’s time to take it to the next step. That we’ve laid a foundation but now we NEED others–those who are Korean American–to help us as Jcontinues to build his view of self.

Which is why I’m so, so thankful for the opportunities God has brought into our lives in the last few weeks at just the time we needed them. I know this job of parenting a transracial adoptee isn’t something my husband and I can do alone. And I’m so thankful to be making connections that will allow us, as a family, to become a part of our son’s ethnic community, and ultimately help him on his journey.


To Camp or Not to Camp?

So summer is almost upon us, and people are contemplating their summer plans.  For many adoptive families those plans include a trip to a heritage/culture or adoptee camp. Early on we thought we’d be one of those families who attended heritage camp each year. We have one that’s held every summer only a couple of hours from our house so it seemed like a no-brainer.

But the first year or two there wasn’t any programming for J. He would have been in daycare while we attended seminars so we decided to wait until he could actually participate in camp-related activities. Then financing became a problem and unemployment meant that camp wasn’t an option. Which brings us to this year, and ironically I have to say that the couple who was thrilled with the idea of heritage camp a few years ago will again not be attending heritage camp. Why this time, you ask? Well, after running the numbers it just doesn’t make financial sense to us.

Here’s a little background. This month J started taekwondo at a dojang with a Korean American instructor that is attended by several Korean American families, and we were given the opportunity to try out our local Korean American school for the remainder of the semester at no cost. So far J is loving both of these opportunities that put him in contact with other Korean Americans on a daily and weekly basis. If we continue Korean school in the fall when the new semester starts, we’d like the whole family to attend given that the school is willing to have an adult beginner’s language course. And, while taekwondo isn’t the cheapest sport out there, we love that it provides a the connection to Korean culture, allows J to learn Korean words, and we believe it’s making a huge difference for J to be around other Korean Americans on a regular basis. He’s figuring out that he’s not alone here as the sole Korean American in our community, which is how I think he felt prior to these opportunities coming along. Eventually my husband and I would like to start taekwondo too.

But both of these opportunities cost money, as does camp. So I priced everything out for our family. What I found was that this year camp would cost approximately $970 for our family of three, including the camp fees, lodging, and meals. (If we tent camped during camp, instead of staying at the lodge, it would be around $460, which is better but still… .) Those figures do not include gas to get to camp, any purchases made at the Korean market they have each year, or any other incidental expenses.

So those “four” days of culture camp (staying at the lodge) would cost the equivalent of eight months of taekwondo (at full price without discounts they offer) or one-and-a-half years of attending Korean school for our whole family. (Even if we tented camped the cost of culture camp would equal almost four months of taekwondo at the full price or one semester of Korean school for our whole family plus an additional semester for one family member.)

If money were no object–if, for instance, our family won the lottery–I’d say we do it all. But given that money is an object, I think we have to get the most bang for our buck. And that just doesn’t seem to be culture camp, at least not the one closest to us. “Four” days of camp is really more like one-and-a-half to two days of actual programming, when you factor in registration day and free time you’re allotted to do recreational things as a family. The camp is run by adoptive parents, which isn’t bad, but I’d personally like it better if the local Korean American community had a leadership role in the camp (local Korean Americans are invited as guests and participate, but to my knowledge don’t help plan the programming). A couple of great things about camp include the camp counselors, who are all adult adpotees, and meeting many other families just like ours. But the likelihood that those families live in our community isn’t great from the stats that I’ve heard, and we have a local program through which we can interact and get to know adult adoptees.

While I’m sure we’d all have a good time at camp, and I don’t dispute it has merit, it just seems like taekwondo and Korean school can provide more for our family right now. Five-day-a-week taekwondo classes and weekly classes at our local Korean school give us regular opportunities to meet and interact with Korean American families in our area, which is one thing we think is really missing for our family. In addition to learning a sport, language, and culture, we’re hoping to make lasting connections and friendships through these opportunities.

Only time will tell at this point. Maybe this time next year, I’ll be back on this blog touting what a wonderful and irreplaceable opportunity heritage camp is. But for now we’re going to stick with the local opportunities that have presented themselves and see where they lead. I’ll keep you updated.

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