March 19, 2013

I'll always have kimchi

I have been feeling strangely disconnected from my life.

This has been going on for a year, maybe even a little longer. It started last March in earnest when The Boy moved to a new city to start his new job. I’m really ambivalent about this empty nest thing, although for the next few years it’s only temporary - we’ll have The Girl home for a couple of years following college graduation while she works a bit and attends grad school.

It’s been an exciting year for my son and daughter: a new job, city, friends and life for one, and a rollicking end to a great college experience for the other. For me, it’s been a year of observation as I have watched our son launch himself into life, and have seen how our daughter is approaching the next phase of hers.

You know what? They are really good at living their lives. They are making decisions that I wouldn’t have had the guts to even consider at their ages – not frivolous or dangerous decisions, but important decisions about choices and direction and life and themselves.

You know what else? Although they have been kind enough to include my husband and me while they have considered their decisions, they honestly haven’t needed us to make them. It is such a relief to know that they are able to navigate this crazy world with wisdom at their young ages.

It’s also satisfying to see how they have gravitated to the Korean and Asian communities. All the adoption-related and cultural stuff we did and learned and experienced together as a family had two points: to help them own their adoption experiences, and to give them the confidence to live their lives in the Asian American community. It’s really good to see that it had a positive impact.
Although adoption isn’t a big part of our discussions at the moment, they know that my husband and I have their backs whenever they need our support, and that we’ll support them  however they want us to, whether that be to accompany them on their journeys, or to butt out entirely.

As for their Asian American lives: I know they're aware that growing up with unrelated white parents differentiates them from their non-adopted Asian friends. I can see that although I will be their parent for life, they are in fact independent individuals. We will always be a family - there is absolutely no question about that. They will always be part of my husband’s and my family stories forever, just as his story is woven into mine and mine into his.
But the kids have an independence that doesn’t exist for children who are born into and raised by the same family. There is a part of my kids that my husband and I can never touch, and never be a part of.

When they were little and that feeling of connection to them was overwhelming and ever-present – you adoptive parents in the house know what I mean – I never would have imagined that I would one day say what I’m saying right now. It would have frightened me, made our family that “second best” that we were always trying to avoid.

As I say it now, I’m not disturbed at all. Our family is as strong and tight and real as any could be. It’s just that I understand now that our family members are separated from each other in a way that families connected by blood are not. I wouldn’t have seen this as a good thing when they were little, but it doesn't disturb me at all now.
Why? Because the truth is that we ARE very separate, unconnected individuals, with very different histories, stories and futures. My husband and I will never search for birth relatives, for first mothers and fathers or blood siblings. If our kids do, the relationships that may follow will be their own, even if someday we all meet. Our kids truly do belong to the Korean and Asian communities - my husband and I have only ever been interlopers, there on our children’s behalf. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it, nor would I give up the Asian American friends I now have for anything, but the fact is that if our children had been born to us, we would never have had the experience. Our kids, of course, would have.

The realization of all of this, which has come in fits and starts during this past year, have been in some ways painful. There’s a part of me that feels odd now for staying involved in the adoption community, particularly the things I do with Korean American groups and friends. Although I have always understood that there’s an artifice to what we adoptive parents do to help our kids connect with their community, for the first time since the kids arrived I feel it - and I don't want to.

Don’t misunderstand: I would not have changed a thing. My kids needed all of this to get where they are and to help them get where they’re going. But what I didn’t anticipate when I started this journey is that it would actually end one day, or at least slow down as much as it has. I feel a little like a piece of my life is dying, and it makes me incredibly sad.
When I observe my now-adult kids living as strong, confident Korean American adoptees, however, I remind myself that it’s never, ever been about me – it’s all about them, and should be.

That’s when I relax a little, and remind myself that, even though the stuff of my life may change in the coming years, I’ll always have kimchi. Well, not just kimchi, but everything I’ve learned about a country and people I would never have known. I can take it all with me into the future and enjoy it, experience it and live it for itself, on my own terms.

2 comments:

Terra Trevor said...

An outstanding post. Beautifully written and wise.

Jenny B. said...

I get it. First started happening to me when my kids were in high school and early college and I would be out and about withOUT kids. I might pass an adoptive family with younger kids and they wouldn't instantly 'know' me as a member of the in-group. There were no nods of the head or little smiles that said, oh yes, we get you. No one knew or could tell that I was an adoptive mom of transracially adopted kids, that I was also a member of the club of adoptive parents. I was just a white lady. I had carried the adoptive mom label for 20+ years, as I went about my life with my kids in tow, or in the car, or on the soccer field. Suddenly, I was just a white lady. I wanted to shout, "NO, that's not ALL that I am!! I am more than that, I have a unique and wonderful role! Can't you SEE that??" Very surreal. Still is. For years I hated the labels, fought them, hated what the labels did to my kids. Now I miss my label.