September 30, 2007

Speak, act, change

When you do wake up it's such a gift, you have to act. Helen Prejean, CSJ

Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJI had the honor of hearing Sr. Helen Prejean speak today. She was at my parish as part of a speaker series entitled A Year of Prayer: Living a Faith That Does Justice. In case you don't know Sr. Prejean: she has worked tirelessly for years to abolish the death penalty; the 1995 film Dead Man Walking is based on her book of the same name.

Sr. Prejean was incredibly articulate and uproariously funny. To hear her tell her story forces you to recognize that we are all responsible for acting when we see an unjustice, no matter what that injustice might be.

There is certainly injustice in adoption, and since adoptions are happening and will continue to happen for a long time, so will the injustices, unless we speak out and take action. And in my opinion, adoptive parents have a particular responsibility to do so.

Which makes the Adoption Ethics and Accountability Conference in Washington, DC October 15th and 16th timely. The conference speaker roster includes some of the best-known people in the adoption community - but don't think it's a conference for professionals only. This conference is for everyone who cares about truth and ethics in adoption.

Yes, it's expensive, and like any other conference may be out of the reach of some. But there are ways to make it happen. Register for one day - or register for two and alternate with a friend. Share a hotel room. Or just bite the bullet and pay it all off in the coming year.

I'll be there, as will many of my blogging friends, like Suz and Claud, and other bloggers I respect, like Jae-Ran. I've been asked to join a panel on post-adoption support, too, not as a blogger but as the co-founder of Korean Focus, bringing the point of view of grassroot adoptive family organizations.

A conference like this one, which focuses on framing problems and finding ways to fix them, is rare. Don't miss this opportunity to add your voice to the others seeking ethical, just adoptions. As Sr. Prejean said today,
It's relentless dialog on issues of justice, and then things change.

September 25, 2007

Cracking the lid of Pandora's box

I hope you read the discussion at Dawn’s about adoptive parent involvement in their children’s searches. It's such a complicated issue. It was pretty clear from the comments that we adoptive parents approach this from many different points of view. And since the circumstances of each adoption are unique, it makes sense.

And makes knowing what to do very hard. There is no roadmap here, folks, no handy-dandy user guide with pat answers and clear directions. This is parental instrument flying – all we can do is trust the meager body of knowledge on this subject, and feel our way through the mist.

That mist will present us with obstacle after obstacle, and at each one we must make a decision that could bring serious consequences, not only for our children, but for their first families.

Should we even consider finding more information about our children’s families?
If we do, what if we’re successful? Do we make contact?
And if we make contact, are we ready to accept the consequences, no matter how serious they are for our children and their first families?

I can look at each of these and answer yes and no, honest double-talk, because each adoption’s circumstances may offer an honest reason to go in one direction or the other. What may be right in one situation could be frighteningly wrong in another – and the same decision may be wrong at one time, but oh so right at another. The dynamics are complicated and fluid, and decisions made today must be revisited again and again, for they’re valid only for the moment in which they’re made.

There’s no straight path to follow, but there are constants: For one, that it’s dangerously easy for us adoptive parents to project our hopes and desires onto our children. That our actions can harm as much as they can hurt. And above all, that our children own it all – the information, the search, the reunion.

I think what I’ve allowed myself to think is that if open adoption is a good thing (which I definitely believe it is) then opening a closed adoption must be a good thing, too. But what's missing in the latter is consent. Openness when everyone wants it is one thing, another thing entirely when it comes out of the blue to someone who didn’t expect or want it. And although I'll always believe that my children's mothers want to know them, and to know that they are healthy and well, making that happen is no longer in my hands, if it ever was.

I told the story here of making contact with one of our children’s mothers. There's no way to know if a reunion will ever happen for that mother and child. If it does, I'm sure I'll think that making contact when we did emboldened her to reach out. But if it doesn’t, I’ll also wonder if we frightened her away - and I would never forgive myself.

In a comment to Dawn's post, AmFam likened embarking on search to opening Pandora's box. I agree with the analogy. Yes, I'm glad we looked for more information and found it. But I'm a little ambivalent about having made contact, because I realize that by doing so, we may have put something in motion that we might not be able to control in the future.

So we've put the lid back on the box, and will go no further. It's up to The Boy and The Girl and their first parents now. And I'm good with that, with letting my hopes and dreams for my children stay just that. After all, sometimes hopes and dreams come true.

September 24, 2007

Great discussion on search . . .

. . . at Dawn's.

Dawn, thank you for tackling this issue! You hit my concerns, and by the growing comments I can tell that others share them.

Everyone, please go over and join in.

September 21, 2007

Pass-Fail Parenting

Judy had a post up the other day, Am I Failing Kindergarten? (no, Judy, you are not!), that was both hilarious and right on the mommy-money. It was about learning the kindergarten ropes, and the accompanying frustration. It not only brought back memories of when our kids started school, but made me cringe a little on Judy’s behalf, because I know it only gets worse.

Yes, I remember that time, and wish my memories of parental failure could stop there. Oh, trust me, there were some doozies – the time I completely forgot to pick my daughter up from preschool. It was just a little embarrassing to get a call from her teacher asking where I was, which was almost in my driveway. Or the time The Boy spilled some soda on the floor at Mickey D’s (yes, I know, more failure – my kids were both allowed to go to McDonald’s and didn’t always have to drink milk there, either) and tried to lick it up. I did catch him before his tongue hit the floor, but the look of absolute horror on my friend’s face was like an ice pick to the heart.

I like to think this is normal stuff, though, so please if you’re horrified don’t burst my bubble. Every parent has memory lapses, weak spots, and moments of bad judgment. There is no perfect parent, and I suspect those who pretend to be are sweeping their embarrassing moments under a carpet somewhere.

And anyway, these aren’t the kinds of things that would make me feel like a parenting failure. It's when I have to honestly say to myself, "I should have known better" that I feel a real sense of failure. Times when it was easier to snap at the kids than to figure out what might be behind a certain behavior. Or times when I didn't think ahead far enough to anticipate challenging situations.

Adoption falls into that last category. I knew so little and accepted so much at face value when we first adopted, so many questions went unasked. I wonder sometimes if our children might know their first families today if fifteen years ago I'd asked the questions I'm asking now.

There are, of course, no guarantees that asking a question nets an answer. But I really do believe that adoption trails grow cold with time, and that finding information, keeping up with it, and keeping it in trust for our kids can make the difference between reunion and permanent separation.

So next time you are wondering about something related to your child's adoption, don't answer your own questions like I often did, with information that I know now was incomplete or incorrect.


September 19, 2007

The circle of blogdom

Does anyone else get the sense that blogland is like a Venn diagram, with circles that interconnect and overlap and lead you further and further away from where you started, only to bring you back again?

Meeting new people is part of the fun of blogging. But for all the size of the internet, the online adoption community is still pretty small. And when a favorite slows down or stops, it's disappointing, sad even.

It happened to me when Twice the Rice went on hiatus, and then again when she stopped. I really miss Ji-In's voice!

And it happened again when Claud stopped writing. Claud is an inspiration - to act, to DO something to change adoption injustice. Go over there, take a look at what Claud is working on right now - and be inspired to roll up your sleeves.

It happened once more when Kim decided to close her blog. It was around the time when my family was in the middle of our end-of-school nightmare and I honestly wasn't reading anyone. But the other day I stopped by Kim's in the hope of a new post - and there wasn't just one, there were many, dating back to the summer. And then today - this. The wisdom and strength in this post is humbling. I am so grateful to hear Kim's voice again.

See? Going in circles can be a very good thing.

September 18, 2007

With thanks to Jenna: An ah-ha moment

The post I wrote last week on educating our children's teachers about adoption was cross-posted on Anti-Racist Parent, where Jenna offered this comment:
Again, this is fine and dandy. But all of this information offers little hope or resource for first families who have to make the decision to discuss their parented child’s placed sibling with their teachers or not, how to word it so that it is properly understood and how to field questions. They don’t make manuals for biological families. There are no resources for us.

If we don’t discuss it with the teacher, we run the risk of our child being called a liar for discussing his sibling. When we do, we subject ourselves to judgment and ridicule which, UNFORTUNATELY, is also passed on to the child too many times to count.

This topic, in general, makes me want to home school.
When I think about adoption and school together I think about my children: maybe being teased, struggling with assignments, or having to explain why they look nothing like their white parents. Logically, I want to ensure that my children's teachers understand how adoption might may play into their assignments or their daily routine. I can talk about it openly with them without fear of judgment.

But what about the mother who placed a child in adoption? Or that child's brother or sister? Is it realistic to think that mother can talk about her and her children's adoption experience as easily as I can? No, so mother and child alike face a situation in which talking about adoption and placed siblings is OK at home, but not at school. It's complicated, confusing and stressful.

Adoptive parents certainly have a responsibility to ensure that our childen's teachers are able to meet their adoption needs in the classroom. But we have an equal responsibility to help them understand the complexity of adoption's relationships, and how they might play out in the classroom. That, I think, has as much to do with how we define family as it does with adoption, and is important to remember in social settings outside of school.

Jenna, thank you. You've given me a lot to think about.

Updated 9/18: Continuing to think about this, about the impact the knowledge we share from our own point of view might have on others whose experiences have been very different from our own. Most adoptive parents I talk to online are clued into the fact that we need to respect those who have experienced adoption loss. But I think that those who have adopted domestically may be more in touch than I am with the fact that anyone we encounter might be a mother, father, brother or sister of a child placed in adoption. Perhaps because my family's adoptive status is so obvious, and my point of view that of an adoptive parent, my thoughts have simply never really focused there. They should have.

Thanks again, Jenna, and thank you also for sharing another look at this issue, from Nicole: Disclosure Dilemma. You must read this one.

September 15, 2007

Don't Misses 9-15-07

The Boy's home this weekend!! He and a buddy planned this trip awhile ago, they have a concert in DC tonight. He arrived at about 9:30 last night, headed straight for the kitchen, made a pot of rice and a bag of Trader Joe's mandarin chicken, and sat down to talk. He hasn't wanted to talk that much in a long time. I got a look at several of his textbooks, was used for Japanese language practice, and got to see some of the projects his rock concert lighting class (yes, he will be getting credit for this) is working on. But don't scoff - he got a job in the lighting department that pays actual DOLLARS, and he may have an opportunity to work at the Police concert when they're in Charlottesville in November! The Boy close enough to Sting to get an autograph - be still my heart!

When I went to sleep last night I had this incredible sense of peace that came from knowing that three of the people I love best in the world were together under one roof again. And I slept better than I had in weeks.

Another reason I slept well is that I've found another K-drama that has absolutely knocked my socks off: Thank You. Here are just a few of the topics the show weaves together: single motherhood; caregiving; Alzheimer's disease; cancer; class conflict; HIV infection; small town vs city life; love. I'm also completely, 100% smitten by Seo Sin-Ae, the show's little star. I discovered the show on AZN Television, but got into it late. But no worries - in the process of trying to find where I could see the episodes I missed, I found a site where I can watch them all online. After I press ENTER to post this, I'm heading off for a Thank You marathon.

New Organization: Adoptees for Children

I learned this week of another adoptee-led organization that is becoming active in the adoption discussion in Korea - Adoptees for Children, or A4C. Adoptees for Children believe (quoted from their webpage):

  • The first priority for children is to be raised by their birth family
  • When that is not possible every effort should be made to find an adoptive family in Korea
  • For children in Korea without either their birth family or an adoptive family ~ intercountry adoption should be given priority over institutionalization or long term foster care.
A4C's members include Steve Morrison, who founded MPAK (the Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea), Susan Cox of Holt, and DC's own Estelle Cooke-Sampson, who was a strong supporter of DC's AKA chapter, which has sadly disbanded.


Korean Adoptions Reach 60 Percent - from the 8-30-07 Korea Times

New film on the subject of Stalin's relocation of 180,00o ethnic Koreans from the coastal provinces of eastern Russia to the central Asian area, now Kazahkstan: Koryo Saram - The Unreliable People

September 13, 2007

Day One Reunion, Day Two Reality

I've been getting a lot of questions recently like these: "So how does it feel to have The Boy away at college?" "What's the biggest difference you notice now that he's away?" "Have your family's dynamics changed?"

There are so many levels I can answer these on - the personal, the emotional, the mundane, for a start. And yes, adoption.

The personal - I just plain miss him. It's hard, REALLY hard, to accept that his wings are unfurled, and once in flight, he may end up far away from us. It's life, it's a good thing, it's the way it should be - but it's really hard for me to accept.

The emotional - I think we're all just plain drained.

The mundane - Less laundry! We don't run out of juice every other day! Car insurance is cheaper! The Girl gets to drive to school! There's one less picky eater in the house!

Adoption - yes, adoption is a part of it, too.

I have wondered these past couple of weeks what The Boy's mother would think about him. Would she think he's as incredible as we do? Would she think we had raised him well? It's important to me to know we have done a good job raising The Boy - for him, for us, but also for his first parents. And so they've been in my mind a lot these past couple of weeks.

The Boy, on the other hand, is in another place right now. His thoughts are on classes, his new job, decorating his room, and finding the good hang-outs. All the stuff any student is thinking about. College is where many adoptees really start defining themselves as young adults. And I know from watching him the last couple of years of high school that his Korean and Asian identities will be a big part of this process for him. But I wonder how much adoption will play into it all.

The Boy has always been pretty disinterested in adoption. He doesn't like talking about it much, and up to now has shown no interest in searching or reuniting with his first family. As he once told me when I tried to engage him in discussion of an adoption topic, "Mom, I'm just not interested in adoption, OK? I do not want to look for my Korean family."

My approach with both my kids has been and always will be to let them lead the way, and to offer insights when I think it's important. In this case, the best I could offer was that he might feel differently one day, and that Third Dad and I would help and support him if he wanted us to.

I wonder, though, if he'll ever come to that point. Reconciling my lifelong hope for him and his sister to find and get to know their first families with the fact that it may never happen is hard to accept. I see it as my failure to protect them from the pain of the unknown that might hit them later in life.

But accept it I must, and maybe this is a good time for me to think about a couple of questions Michelle asked in a comment way back that got lost in my summer shuffle:
What do a-parents understand about adoptees and reunion? What is their perception of how reuniting with mothers, fathers and family feels and what happens after? Can an adopted person integrate into a family, ethnicity and culture after years of separation?
Without a doubt, my view of reunion has been influenced by literature and movies that take you to the first meeting, but not far beyond. Maybe in their wisdom, The Boy and The Girl (who told me last summer that although she wants to search one day, she's just not ready now) see beyond the initial emotion and rush of joy. They, like many adoptees, may focus more on what happens next, on the survival of the new relationships. That may bring fear enough to outweigh the initial happiness, and to discourage even trying to find.

To be honest, I've only gone to the future on hope and prayer, and have never gotten beyond reunion Day One, with its gut-wrenching emotion. I've always maintained that commitment would surmount the challenges, as it can in an open adoption. But open adoptions allow the benefit of time, time to work through emotion and for the relationship to evolve. Reunion, I think, may be more like an arranged marriage, where two people who may know nothing about each other meet for the first time on their wedding day. That wedding may precede a relationship that takes years to develop, and which may or may not reach the point of mutual love. Add the grief of loss, years of longing, and the residue of stigma, and how much harder must it be to create a lasting bond!

I also have to say that there has been a lot of "I" in my dreams, too - how I would support my children, how I would welcome their first families, how I would nurture the relationships into the future. I need to shift my focus to what The Boy and The Girl desire or fear from reunion. And I need to understand what life would be like for them on Day Two, by listening to those who are there today (like Tina, who wrote a beautiful post about this last month). It might be wonderful - it might be painful. My role now must be to offer truthful, realistic advice when asked, but to remember that only they can decide whether or not to take the leap to find out.

In my selfish dreams, I've been as much a part of Day One as The Boy and The Girl and their first parents. When they were little, perhaps it was understandable that adoptive parents in closed adoptions might try for more openness. But it's time now to pull away from my dreams of Day One, and to remember that Day Two is for them. They own it, entirely. No matter the hope in my heart, my firm conviction that knowing is better than not knowing: it's time for me to hand over the keys and let them drive the train.

I think they know by now who's in the caboose, ready to help if needed. And if not? I'm glad to have shared the ride with them this far.

September 11, 2007

Remembering September 11

Today, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the September 11 attacks and their families, and especially with Stanley L. Temple. I wrote about Mr. Temple as part of last year's Project 2,996 blog initiative. There was simply no information to be found about him, and it was heartbreaking. A comment appeared a couple of days after I posted my tribute that told me Mr. Temple had worked shining shoes for the employees of Cantor Fitzgerald, and that he has a sister in New York City. And today I found this comment on a 9/11 tribute site:

I came across this page in remembrance of the 9/11 tragedy, and saw that no family members had left no response. I'm really hurt to see that that has happen because I know you have family in New York and Virginia. I tried many times but to no avail to find out what happen to you. Even today I cant get the respond needed. I only hope your loves did the right thing. For now I truly know that you are at peace with your loveing wife Margret for I personally will truely miss and be hurt at the phone conversation we had about not visiting you more often when she passed.

In loving remembrance
Your Godson

Harry, I'm proud to remember Stanley L. Temple today. I pray his sister, you and the rest of his family have found solace through the ordeal of his loss. And thank you for letting us know that Stanley is at peace with is wife.

Spend some time today learning about the lives we lost on September 11, 2001. The Project 2996 website has links to the 2006 tributes, as well as ways for you to honor the fallen on your blogs and in your communities. Take a moment and remember. When I do, I always come back to this poem by poet laureate Billy Collins, words that never fail to touch my heart.
The Names

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name --
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner --
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds --
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

September 10, 2007

Level Set

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about what I have left to write about here. No doubt the generally nostalgic tone of our lives recently, with The Boy off to college and The Girl starting down college search road, has contributed to all this reflection.

When I started writing last year, I was embarking on a search through conflicting feelings about adoption – not the experience of being an adoptive parent, but concerns about adoption injustice and my role in perpetuating it. My family's experience had raised a lot of questions about the "rightness" of adoption, my motives in adopting, and my understanding of just how hard adoption can be for those who experience its losses.

I'm not sure if I've come to terms with the conflict, and I'm not sure I ever can or will. The best I think I'll be able to do is accept living with the that adoption from Korea as it was practiced eighteen years ago, and which is my only real frame of reference, was flawed. I can’t change that; I can only help put the practice right.

In one of my early posts, I wrote this:

Would my husband and I have still adopted had we known then what we know now? I honestly don't know. But to cast that decision in today's light would be a betrayal of the commitment I made to my children then to love them for all time.
Now I know the answer. Yes, I would have adopted my children again. But I would have demanded more information, more details about their and their mothers’ circumstances, and the reasons these women came to adoption. That information may have brought my husband and me to different decisions along the way. In the case of one of our children, I believe the outcome would have been the same. In the other, I don’t know, I just don’t know.

All I really know is that for reasons known only to them, two women came to the decision to place their children in adoption. Those decisions may have been of their free will, they may have been made for reasons we now reject, like poverty or lack of support from their families and communities. They made these decisions with only one solace: That their children would find unconditional love in their new families. My kids found that in my family. Now, I can only hope that some day those women and my children will find each other, and will be able to claim firsthand the love that’s been theirs all along.

There is no place in the world for poverty, tragedy, and injustice. But while they are here, adoption may be with us, too, as in some cases it may be the best way to protect the world’s children from them. It has to be ethical and just. It cannot be an industry unto itself. It must not be practiced as a charitable act unto itself. Those who choose it, first parents and adoptive parents alike, must recognize their responsibilities to preserve their children’s connections to the past, and nurture their connections to the present – their racial and ethnic community. And always, adoption must be down the list of alternatives, a list that must start with preserving genetic families and protecting the human right of mothers, fathers and their children to be together.

I’m not a law maker or social worker, but I can speak out for openness, honesty, and ethics in adoption. I’m not a first mother, but I can speak out in support of single women and men so they are given realistic opportunities to parent their children. But as the adoptive parent of nearly-grown kids, I can speak from a position of some authority on how to preserve our children's ties to the past and nurture their connection to their present communities. I've got NO question about a-parent responsibility for that!

I think this will give me lots to think out loud about in the future – at least I hope so, because otherwise I’m all talked out.