blog posts

announcement: article feature on resonate mag

My auspicious connect with blogger and social commentator, Eliza Romera aka Aesthetic Distance, has led to so many incredible opportunities. She helped me get my infamous Think Adopting Children of Color Makes You Woke? It Doesn’t. article launched. Now, she and her editor friend over at We Are Resonate supported me enough to feature a second transracial adoption piece!

Below’s an excerpt and a link to the full post. THANK YOU!

FEATURE: WHAT THIS KID’S AMAZING AMERICA’S GOT TALENT AUDITION TAUGHT ME ABOUT RACIAL MIRRORING, ADOPTION, AND PARENTING

Humanizing Asians in popular culture will provide racial mirrors for those of us unlucky enough to lack them.

I’m not a singer, I’m not a consumer of pop culture, and I’m definitely not that into music. But when I watched this kid’s amazing rendition of Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up,” I was taken not just by 13-year-old Jeffrey Li’s unquestionable talent but by something else completely.

Through my work as a transracial Korean adoptee, I write a lot about racial mirroring and its importance for children of color. Without families or communities resembling them, many Asian adoptees grow up insecure about, ambivalent toward, or hating everything that makes them Asian, all characteristics–like their adoptions–completely out of their control. Unsurprisingly and without remediation, such attitudes become deeply ingrained in children who grow into adults with complex racial identities.

Read the rest here at Resonate!

the COLORSBIND BOX: a monthly journey to a not-so-colorblind transracial adoption community

Subscription boxes are one of those things people either love or don’t care about. I always fell into the latter category, because I found them pricey and/or hard to cancel…until, of course, I discovered ipsy. That’s a story for a different blog!

As a transracial adoptee, I’m flummoxed by the lack of ongoing transracial adoption education provided by adoption agencies. Perplexed and frustrated, but not surprised. What COLORSBIND boxes–lanched by Nedra L. and Bryan K. Hotchkins–nobly set out to accomplish is both admirable and massive; through a monthly subscription box, transracial adoptive families of black adoptees will receive a package of themed items (from t-shirts to books). Opening small worlds and forming community connections is the clear goal, offering education and interactions where societal gaps remain.

COLORSBIND boxes help your children see Black people as beautiful, smart and valuable, exposing your family to things that make you laugh and think. -The COLORSBIND website

Unboxing Transracial Adoptive Families

When I discovered COLORSBIND, my first instinct as a Korean adoptee was a slightly bitter, “Why just black transracial adoptive families?” It’s true Asians are routinely forgotten in racial discourse, and in the COLORSBIND box, it overlooks a key fact: Asians are among the most common transracial adoptee, as well as the most common intercountry adoptee, as well.

I got over my knee-jerk reaction quickly, especially after I offered to review one of boxes. Upon arrival, what appeared as a missed opportunity is actually an open door for inclusivity. The COLORSBIND box is a beautifully simple and scalable idea. Its creators, one of whom is a black transracial adoptee, launched the project in 2018 to promote child-centered culturally-competent transracial adoptive families. For Asians, Indians, Native Americans, and other groups feeling left out, don’t: The founders have loose plans for expansion and I know I’d be willing and able to help create a similar box for Korean transracial adoptive families.

The Beauty on the Inside

colorsbind june 2018 box
Look how gorgeous this box is printed! Take that, Amazon.

I was struck by the care and resources invested in this small, yet powerful, box. Here’s what was under the attractively-printed, full-color box lid (that’s never making its way to my recycling bin–ever):

A book!
A t-shirt!
A beautiful photo of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man printed across the author’s face!
A glossy magazine!
A flag!
Fancy shredded paper that my almost-four-year-old son adored!

The commitment, love, and care invested in this box’s contents (and its mission) were palpable. Each item was nestled on top of the other, carefully folded and arranged in an organized, professional presentation. I couldn’t believe how much it contained, delivering item after informative item.

A themed cultural experience

Each month’s COLORSBIND box is, as I said before, tied into some theme. For June, it was Juneteenth, an event I’d heard of but (shamefully) couldn’t articulate. As I move through each of the items provided, you’ll learn how they’re connected to the theme and transracial adoption.

Let’s go through its contents and I’ll provide the play-by-play of my thoughts.

Note: Due to my excitement, I forgot the actual order in which the items were packed. Sorry!

  1. An actual full copy of Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth.

    colorsbind june 2018 book

    • “Are you freaking kidding me!? I LOVE books and can’t believe they sent this to me. Holy crap. I never read this book! I still need to read Invisible Man! I’m so behind in my reading! It’s like these people READ. MY. MIND.
      “What is Juneteenth though? I’m so embarrassed, I should know this…if I don’t know this, others surely don’t, too. Good thing they sent it.

      “I wonder if people will take the time to read it. They better.”

  2. A t-shirt!

    • “OMG they asked my size and really did send me a t-shirt. It’s gorgeous and actually not some crappy CafePress screenprint. Holy heck. But my readers still won’t get a picture of me in it so here’s a piture of some happy dude wearing it in what looks like a BJ’s.”
      guy wearing juneteenth shirt
  3. The full-color, glossy magazine, COLORSBIND Us Magazine

    colorsbind box 2018 magazine.jpg

    • “Wow, this is legit. There’s a table of contents, a feature story, an Editorial section and…wait? What’s this? They actually featured an area of the USA and represented upcoming black cultural events? That’s a TON of effort. Go them. Respect.

      colorsbind 2018 events
      “Let’s see, what else…book recommendations for kids and adults, definite plus. Shows they’re thinking more deeply than ‘make this recipe and call it a day.’ An art section featuring drawings by black adoptees, pretty cool. Way to generate inclusion.

      “But what’s this Feature? An article by a white man calling transracial adoption ‘interracial’ adoption? Hmm…okay, common error. But wow, he’s admitting adopting black doesn’t make him ‘woke.’ I wish more people were like him. I hope the COLORSBIND people feature more parents like this, but you know what’s missing? A feature about a black transracial adoptee. That would slay.

      “Totally digging their thoroughness here. And…wow! They explain Juneteenth to me! They honestly did their work here to make sure nothing would be missed. Wow.”

  4. A mission statement and contact card
    colorsbind june 2018 mission card

    Totally fridge-worthy. Should be sent to transracial groups all over.

    • “This is going on my fridge so anyone who comes over will ask me about it. Do they make car magnets? I’d totally rock a car magnet.”
  5. This gorgeous image

    ralph ellison
    I’m that person who doesn’t remove anything out of its factory wrappings, including the sticky plastic covers on new phones, remote controls, etc. I know, I know.
    • “I don’t know how decided to make this picture of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man transposed over his face, but this is awesome and I hope someday someone creates a portrait of my face with my words. I’m framing this.”
  6. The official Juneteenth flag!
    colorsbind juneteenth flag

    • “Have they literally thought of everything I needed to decorate my barren home office? I didn’t even know a Juneteenth flag existed. COLORSBIND is education and functional. These people are so invested in this project. I freaking love it.”

Is a COLORSBIND Box subscription worth it?

Yes.

I’m a discerning person, but this is an easy (literally, all transracial families have to do is subscribe) way to involve your entire family in your child’s racial tapestry. I

It’s not condescending, it’s not preachy, it’s not corny. And a portion of the proceeds go to the Think Positionality Education Foundation, an organization offering adoptee-led transracial post-adoption education (finally!).

It’s modern, it’s applicable to families no matter where they’re residing in the USA, it’s interactive, it’s accessible.

But again, it’s currently targeted at transracial adoptive families with black children. This limits its reach and might turn off families who already feel isolated. Obviously, with its co-founder being a black adoptee this totally makes sense. On the upside, COLORBIND’s attention to detail and reproducible model makes easily expandable for transracial adoptive families of all colors. And I totally wish I’d thought of it.

Is a COLORSBIND Box enough?

Like other post-adoption education and cultural trainings, signing up is voluntary. The folks who really need COLORSBIND likely won’t ever consider this (or anything else) as a resource, but for those families in the middle–you know, the ones who don’t know it all but are open to learning–will benefit and should subscribe (prices here). So, it’s an excellent start.

I want this idea to take off. I want it to work. I want others to initiate similar projects, not to steal COLORBIND’s thunder but to emphasize and fill in the gaps where adoption agencies leave off. Adoption is filled with memoirs and blogs and social media accounts promising and working for change, but COLORSBIND is taking that activism offline and bringing transracial adoptees’ voices to life through tangible objects and valuable keepsakes.

colorsbind

Receiving a box for review was an honor and I hope to review their future boxes. This is a novel concept, whose creators embraced a monumentally difficult task (making cultural immersion family-friendly, informational, yet fun) and are, so far, doing it right.

No matter where you’re at in the adoption community, I urge you to purchase at least one box and support the COLORSBIND mission and a transracial adoptee’s work. And please let me know when you get yours–I’d love to hear from you!

Want to order a July 2018 box? They’re taking orders until July 5! New subscribers get 5% off.

adoption’s other stolen motherhood

On Father’s Day weekend, my husband and son took a trip out to see some family, planning on staying overnight so they could attend a Sunday baseball game. I went out to the car to say goodbye to Liam and as I pulled away from his sticky preschool boy hug, he said

Mommy, please come!

For many mothers, this is a standard, heartwarming child’s plea: “Mommy,” our children urge, “don’t go!”

Another example: At Liam’s end of school year party, he refused to participate in his class’s end of year show. Once he sees Mommy, he breaks down completely. He’s always the group’s only child unable to join in when Mommy’s around, needing me instead of his friends. This is a habit formed since he was two years old.

For adoptees-turned-mothers, these events are harsh skips in our daily soundtrack, forcing us not into the quiet reverie of motherhood but into that complicated place called abandonment. What, I wonder, have I done to reveal my life’s secret anxiety?

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I consider all of this in context of not just my own personal history, but the history of the many adoptees who become parents. Is our heightened sense of loss, our prescient understanding that at some point our children will grow into adults who may or may not reflect our parental failings, so tightly wound into our interactions that we pass it on to our children?

I can’t speak for others, but to me, it’s a fascinatingly painful fear. My son’s innocent pleadings for a Mommy he never realizes could leave both confound me and, somewhat embarrasingly, generate a deep sense of envy toward my own son. Because of my simple decision to not give up on him, I’ve constructed for him a foundation unshakeable–unless, of course, I walk away.

Seeing its utter simplicity, seeing just how easy it could have been for my life to not be marred by adoption’s persistent complications, repulses me. I know for a birth mother, adoption isn’t easy.

Still, when I consider this notion of presence equaling simplicity, my memories rewind themselves like a tape playing backwards. School plays and insults and Christmases and harsh words and smiles become garbled together in frenzied reversal. As I begin with my birth–the only thing my son and I have in common is that we were born–I start my life over, trying to replace my son’s experience with my own. Eventually I give up, unable to write a story that never existed.

At that point, I wonder: Is being a “a good mother” one who merely sticks around? Does that mean I get a pass to be as mediocre or terrible as possible, simply because I know that no matter what, a child almost always wants nothing but his birth parents–regardless of skill?

Obviously, parenting takes far more effort than just described. As an adoptee, however, the innocence of motherhood–the innocence allowing moms to make mistakes and forgive ourselves–was taken from us when we ourselves were taken away.

Like other parents, we know how carefully children watch their parents. But unlike the unadopted, we have a full appreciation of the long-reaching impact our presence has on a child. Adoption ends the childhood innocence of believing our parents will never stop wanting us. It destroys the myth of family as safe haven. Adoptees, unfortunately, know how untrue that can be, how carefully we tread the line between good and bad parents. Despite it not being an easy choice to walk away (I wouldn’t–ever), I don’t think we can ever fully believe that, since it happened to us.

Because of adoption, the joy of motherhood–one I’m owed–has been destroyed.

As Liam grows older, articulating his desire for Mommy’s closeness is becoming stronger and more frequent. With his developing sense of self and familial bond–that of which I still struggle to experience–he unintentionally and continuously highlights a permanent space between us. I actively work on closing it while remaining aware of our life’s distinct path, a path chosen not by either of us but by those who swore to love us forever.

who owns an adoptee’s story? overshare versus pride in adoption

Do a search for adoption in the news (human adoption–NOT pet adoption; Google likes to lump those two together) and you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of adoption “journey” stories told not by adoptees, but by adoptive parents.

Sandra Bullock, these random white parents of a transracial adoptee, and yet another white woman’s story of adopting a Chinese baby do make for compelling blog posts and articles. We’ve got the fuzzy-feels of saving a child, helping a child, and of course, lots of tears.

white tears.gif

But that’s not all! Countless books have been written on what it’s like to adopt, from the financial hardships, the invasive home studies, the marriage strain, and the pseudo-enwokening of transracial adoptive parents. Most conclude with a happy tale of a family formed, love gained, and a child destined for greatness.

Why is this a problem?

For adoptees, these parent-centric narratives have several unintended consequences:

  • Parents’ voice overrides the child’s before the child can articulate their side
  • By the time the child can speak up, the community’s already defined the kid’s  life, so any adoptee-generated criticism is automatically discounted
  • Weird photos and personal details of a kid’s life are shared without the child’s permission
  • The kid will be a CHILD FOREVER, based on their early portrayal
  • Traps kid in state of forced gratitude forever

quote_for_overshare

By selling or sharing these stories–undoubtedly coming from a place of parental pride–I wonder if this borders on exploitation.

As a mother, I’m hesitant to share my son’s um, birth journey. I guess the biological kid equivalent would be his story starting from conception to the push out the womb and all the details in between.

First of all, sharing that would be awkward. Second, he’s going to grow up one day and probably direct teenage angst at me for a zillion reasons and my oversharing of his trip from being the sperm that won to a disgruntled teenager doesn’t need to be complicated by my inability to keep my mouth shut.

overshare one.jpeg
This goes for ANY relationship. You know if you’re guilty, so don’t get mad.

Why is that any different for adoptees?

Being adopted, I get the process of obtaining me was fraught with complications, paperwork, stress, and probably heartache. Sharing that over several decades ago, however, was limited to conversations over wall-mounted corded phones and maybe a Christmas card. Today, I get that instant Facebook likes and blog post shares offer a validation more addicting than those provided by an adoptive-parent support group.

However.

We get you love your adopted child.

We understand the process was difficult.

And we acknowledge infertility sucks.

But please remember your child will inevitably become an adult.  An adult who, upon reflection, will want freedom of expression without being chained to their parents’ pre-existing portrayal and public back-pats.

There’s one other less obvious side effect of these stories and that’s the continuation of adoption as a practice without consideration of an adoptee’s experience.  The sunshine-and-roses narrative–while realistic for some adoptive families–means prospective adoptive parents will use these articles as mirrors for their own experiences, leading to potential horror and disillusion when their child grows up and doesn’t fulfill these pre-existing stereotypes.

To borrow a slightly cliched and Biblical saying, pride comes before a fall. In this case, I ask adoptive parents to restrain themselves a bit for their child’s sake, remembering their kid grows up and deserves to tell their adoption story themselves. Adoptees own their adoptions story. You don’t need the validation of thousands of strangers to justify your decision to adopt your child.

pride
I’m always hesitant to share so-called unsourced proverbs, but this is totally appropriate here.

 

#ThursdayThoughts: Stop Rehoming Humans

Each Thursday and Friday will be dedicated to rehoming posts. In addition to the in-depth work I’m doing on this issue, I want to keep this fresh in everyone’s mind.

Feel free to share and post as needed!

stop rehoming may 17.jpg

“If you’re bad, I’m sending you back to the womb!” –said no parent ever

So why is rehoming “troublesome” adopted children okay?

#StopRehomingHumans–follow me on Twitter

when i lost my mother, i found myself

marcelo-silva-385218-unsplash.jpg

When I was just about to turn 26, the ovarian cancer savaging my mother’s tired internal organs finally completed its violent mission. My mother died on Thursday, July 15, 2010, after a three-year fight she knew she’d lose.

It was a humid summer day and my room was a mess.  My brother–or was it my aunt?–knocked on my door that morning, to tell me my mom was gone. Several hours later, I was told there was something left for me on her nightstand. It was a card, addressed to me, while her body still lay in her bed and the hand that penned the message still and limp.

It took me several moments to open the card, but when I did, the message was clear. Full of love and persistent motherly concern. In a shaky hand, she gently urged me to

Find out why you’re so angry all the time.

Before she died, my mother would hug me gently, a body wrapping me in the medicinal scent of chemotherapy drugs and holistic remedies. She’d whisper

I’m sorry I couldn’t help you.

It’s been many years since I received that card, a memento framed and hanging in my hallway outside of my son’s bedroom. It’s displayed in its angel-fronted glory, in a custom frame underneath my son’s first foot and handprints and a portrait of my mother as a preschooler.

Back then, I took her message as a sign that yes, I was angry and her efforts to help had failed. I still attributed my anger to overall jealousy and discontent with the world–I hadn’t yet discovered my rage related to a lifelong history of abuse, racism, and adoption.

The most difficult thing in re-reading her inscription–so lovingly writ!–is acknowledging that she, as well as my father, was a source of that anger. That her choices in adopting me, her inability to progress and open her mind to color, and her inadvertant support of my father’s racist-abusive behavior caused my problems. That my mother, to whom I experienced an unhealthy over-attachment as compensation for adoption-related attachment issues, wasn’t the innocent, well-meaning idol I knew.

A disheartening reality, one most people who lose their parents young must face: Confronting the possibility that your parents weren’t perfect, but unknowingly failed you in many ways.

It’s a complicated love. I love my mother and wish she were still here, playing with her grandson and existing not as a playground ghost  but my friend and mom. But realizing her errors and her misconception that my anger was due to anything but her actions cements the wound adoption wove into our relationship.

She died believing she did right, which I suppose is the best way to go. But with her absence, I’ve slowly unfurled her imperfections, not out of disrespect to her but in an effort to free myself from a life chained to grief.

Her memory influences my adoption reflections. I’ve written of our racial differences in Through Her Mirror: What my white mother’s view on makeup taught me as a Korean adoptee and her fundamental misunderstanding of adoption and race in A journey through space, a journey divided. I shared her racial ignorance in Shut Up and Smile. None of this was done maliciously. It’s all part of our story together. The journey she took me on is ultimately one we’d never conclude together, and while honoring her through unflattering memories might not seem loving, it’s a testament to the complex nature of transracial adoption and a mother-daughter relationship.

Perhaps this article’s title is misleading. I have yet to “find myself.” Actually, I dislike generic terminology. Maybe a better way frame this, for myself and other adoptees suffering through loss without their mothers, is

When I Lost My Mother, I Found Freedom

adoptive mom returns children; i respond

In case you missed it, I wrote an article in response to a white woman who kept her adopted children for four months–and then returned them.

Here’s an excerpt:

Dear Every Adoptive Parent Who Thinks This Is Okay,

You promised to love your adopted children like your own, thinking adoption was the solution to whatever inability you had to bear your own biological children.

You underwent the process to obtain someone’s children, tiny human beings with souls already marked by uncertainty and insecurity. Children who, from birth, were subject to separations no being should ever consider humane.

For a short moment in these children’s lives, you provided hope and excitement. Even at young ages, children learn vulnerability is a liability and don’t offer it easily. But with their adoption, they believed they’d found a home.

But after only four months, for whatever reason — but my guess is that it was the side effects of their trauma and unstable upbringings — they were actually given back.

Read the rest.

to survive or thrive

I love gardening. I love waking up and walking outside to my suburban yard each morning and seeing what sprouted up overnight, checking if any tiny tender green leaves cut their way through my sandy South Jersey soil.

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I’m an impatient gardener, though, getting down on my hands and knees several times a day, inspecting the dirt while the morning’s moisture seeps through the knees of my pants.

Recently and at my urging, my husband and I moved a knockout rose bush from our shady front yard to a super-sunny spot in the backyard, knowing it’d bloom tremendously with the sun’s uninterrupted light. In its previous location, it was a woody and awkward thing–bordering on an eyesore–producing only one or two tiny roses each season but never anything more.

It was surviving out front, sure. But was it thriving? No.

Any plant will survive in imperfect conditions, as long as it has the absolute minimum requirements to keep itself going. But if it’s a flowering species, it likely won’t offer blooms, only green leafy stems and foliage but never reaching its true potential.

Like that rose bush, many adoptees simply survive. We move forward using grit and adrenaline, pulling through abuse and racism and second-class status and hurt and loss, and we become functional adults with lives built on, again, survival.

But we’re not thriving.

I think about what happened with that rose bush and what happened to me and plenty of adoptees like me. Taken from uncertain circumstances in mysterious greenhouse incubators, plunked down in an environment offering life’s basics and maybe even a little “more,” yet still unable to reach our full potential. We fail to thrive. Or, using my gardening example, maybe we notice a struggling little patch of grass attempting to set seed, give it water, and walk away, wondering why isn’t it growing?

But this is what’s happening:

After we got my dog, after my husband attended therapy with me, and after I slowly discovered that what adoption and racism did to me wasn’t healthy, did I find myself just like the plants outside. Because when I was young, after growing not into the docile Asian daughter promised by the adoption agency, but instead a headstrong girl with her own personality, genetic code, and needs, I was transformed into my family’s ungrateful wench. The miserable bitch who started arguments with my parents and just couldn’t be happy.

My family was full of homecoming queens and prom kings and sports stars. I was anti-social, a bookworm, and hung out with losers (even though I had few friends). I frequently lost friends due to my jealousy and difficulty trusting people. None of this was attributed to adoption or my insecure attachments. Instead, it was my status as my family’s outcast that simply explained it all.

I was difficult, yes. But like many adoptees (especially transracial ones adopted in the early days), emphasis was placed on my problems being due to lack of gratitude and severe personality defects. None of it was attributed to my environment or stuff like this:

or this:

I’m not perfect. I absolutely had an attitude problem, but like my rose bush, in the wrong environment–even with the minimal requirements needed to live–an adoptee or wounded child won’t grow into a happy teen and contented adult.  For many years, I blamed myself for being different. I lashed out at anyone white, anyone thin, anyone better than me because there was always something wrong with meWithout understanding or compassion, there’s no way to safely move from survival mode to thriving. So we shift into fight mode, unable to take flight until we’re able to detach ourselves from that environment and rebuild our lives.

I don’t blame my family or my community. By stepping back and observing life’s strange landscapes, I’m able to see that we all had a responsibility to each other and somewhere, something failed us. And maybe that’s why I’ve spent years trying to perfect my plants. Seeing life take shape from my best efforts rewards me by providing a living metaphor for life.

I am so happy to have found support and space to thrive. Learning to trust this environment–one I’m building entirely on my own with a few special folks (and you) along the way–is terrifying. But my hope is that we all tell our stories and are given equal representation in the media and the safety to explore our histories. We aren’t perfect, but we aren’t to be shunned for our depression or rage or challenging behavior. No child deserves to be labeled by their own family, but as my time in my garden illustrates, thriving is possible once you find an environment that allows you to bloom.

announcement: “playground ghost” published!

I’m thrilled to announce that my second literary work, playground ghost, has been published in Parhelion Literary Magazine! It’s a brief piece describing loss, love, and grieving.

Read an excerpt below and then take a look at the collection of AMAZING authors they’ve shared in their inaugraul issue. Thank you all so much for your support!

I see you sitting with your graying blonde hair and an arm outstretched across the worn white plastic outdoor bench that’s found new life as makeshift indoor seating.

You’re glancing over at me. I’m crouching by a ball pit that reeks of old gym mats and little kid sweat. I’m scolding my son and you’re fixing your bright blue eyes on me, smiling, curiously.

You’re starting to call to me but think twice, calmly watching me throw balls at my son. I can see memories all over your face, each flick of your lips a stop-and-start of a “back when you were little” or a “we didn’t have these things.”

Read the rest!