So, I'm riding in the car with my 15-year-old stepson on Independence Day this past weekend. It occurs to me that I have forgotten to put out our flag at the house. So, I say as much. My stepson responds jokingly, "Oh, which flag is that?" I say, "Well, the USA flag". Then, in a moment of matching his joking manner, I add, "I could put out the Guatemalan flag, but our Independence Day is September 15, so that wouldn't make much sense."
Hmmm. "Our"? It kind of came out of my mouth and then struck me as interesting. It wasn't lost on my stepson, either. He actually got kind of irritated. "OUR???", he stated loudly. "Aren't you an American citizen? What's with the "our"?"
Which was food for thought. I wasn't sure exactly why I'd said that. I don't recall this coming up before so I didn't have a good answer for him. He was visibly distressed by this. I still don't have an answer, but it seemed like a good thing to mention on here. What do other adoptees from Guatemala consider themselves to be? Only Americans? Guatemalan Americans? I've always felt that I was both, but this is the first time I think I actually voiced such an opinion.
Just something to think about. :-)
Okay, so, I've been absent for a bit. Okay, a long time. It seems that this whole raising-a-kid thing is very time-consuming!
Also, to be honest, I let the naysayers get to me as well. I had received several nasty e-mails telling me what a horrible mother I was going to be, and how I will probably force my daughter to feel the same way I feel, and what a freak I am for not having any "issues" about being adopted and for not being interested in finding out more about people who might be biologically related to me. I should not have been surprised I suppose. Although I had started writing on this site to be a source of information for people interested in my experiences as an adult who had been adopted from Guatemala, I should have realized that any time you open yourself up for questioning, you also open yourself up for criticism. I guess I was just surprised that anyone would be so upset about the way I was living *my* life. Mostly because I don't see how my having a happy life would make people mad. It's very odd to me. In any case, I'm over it, and so you folks can lambast me all you want, but it's still not going to take away the fact that I am happy with my life. So, sorry. :-)
Also, I've had a bit of "writer's block", mostly because my day-to-day life seems so unremarkable that every time I would sit down to write something, I'd think, "Wow, how boring. No one wants to read this!" Like this morning, for instance. My daughter has bathed, I've been doing work on my laptop, and now I am getting ready to clean the house. Um, okay. Where's the riveting story in that?
The past three years for me since my daughter was born have been pretty much the standard three years of anyone who has had children. There was the first year with all of the fun milestones, the joining of clubs for stay-at-home moms, the potty training, the playdates. I figure that things will liven up here soon, since she starts school in the Fall. So maybe I will have more to say then? This column started out being more about me, but now that I'm a mother, I see it progressing to be more about my experience raising my daughter from an adoptee's perspective, and how that frames how I raise her.
Well, that's it for now. Sorry it couldn't be more exciting! I must rush off since my sweet pea has decided that it would be a good idea to completely re-arrange her closet...
So, this week I got to deal with the dreaded "real parent" issue. Yet again. Only this time I really had to exercise a great amount of patience, because the offending party was - - my 9-year-old stepdaughter. Let me give you a little background before Iaunch into this week's story.
My husband and I have known our plan to adopt since we first started dating. Well, let me rephrase that. I have known my plan to adopt since elementary school, and informed each and every guy I got serious with that this was the plan. So the fact of the matter is that it was always my plan, but became my husband's plan when we first started dating, since he thought it was a great idea. So anyway, we had prepared my stepdaughter and stepson for this eventuality from the very beginning, so that they would know that at some point they'd have a younger sister, and how she would come to be a part of our family. They also know that I was adopted, so it's not as if the concept was new to them. But from the very beginning, my stepdaughter has not absorbed adoption as I've seen it (tough lesson learned #1: you can't make your kids feel the same way you do about something). They both had that same perspective when we started out: "Well, who are your real parents then?". Which of course made me grimace, but they were so young that I knew they didn't mean anything bad by it. It's just that they came from their mother's body, so they didn't understand the concept that I didn't. My stepson seemed to get it after just one explanation. He likened it to a popular TV show (he watches a lot of TV at his mom's house): "Oh, so it's like that episode of that show where the woman had babies in her body that she was carrying for her brother, and after she had the babies the brother and his wife took them home and became their mom and dad?". Well, sort of (time for a discussion of surrogate parenting?). But he got the general idea that my perspective was that parents are the people who raise you and that your parents aren't always the ones who created you with the biological process.
For the first few years, my stepdaughter didn't really ask a lot of questions. But right around the time she turned 6, they started to come. "So, who are your real parents?", she asked one day while I was fixing her hair. I did my whole speech, about how my mom and dad are my only parents, how there is no such thing as "real" parents, because that would mean there are "fake" parents, and there aren't. I talked to her about proper language to use around adopted people and how some terms can hurt their feelings. This topic came up several more times over the next few years. I started to think she had a really poor memory, because I felt like a broken record. I reminded my self she was just a kid so I'd just go through it again. At some point I started to use the analogy about the fact that her mom and dad are divorced, and that doesn't make her "weird" or "not normal", and that she needed to understand that adopting a child is just another way to have a baby, that it wasn't "weird", and that she shouldn't make other kids feel that way if she encounters them. She agreed, seeming to understand that just like she disliked other kids asking her why her mom's last name was different and why she lived in two homes, kids who were affected by adoption might dislike her question about "real" parents.
Okay, so that's the last 6 years in a nutshell. So this week during a (dreaded) conversation about sex since her first sex education class in school happened a few weeks ago, the subject of babies of course came up, including how her teacher is pregnant and how some other teacher in the school just had a baby, etc. So she looks at my daughter toddling around and says, "You know, if I had been adopted I'd want to go back and find my real parents." I just about imploded. Honestly, have the past 6 years been imagined in my head?? I wanted to scream, GOOD GRIEF, HAVE YOU NOT HEARD A WORD I'VE SAID TO YOU YOUR WHOLE FREAKIN' LIFE???? But, as usual, I tried to stay calm. I went over the whole thing with her again, just like I have before. The bottom line is that she just doesn't get it. So I call my mom to vent. My mom hates those "real parent" words too, so I knew she'd understand my frusteration, although she does use the words biological mother to talk about the woman who gave birth to her, unlike me. Still, she was able to be calm enough to remind me that my stepdaughter is just a child. She also reminded me that my stepdaughter has learning issues in school and so perhaps her ability to grasp this rather difficult concept is potentially linked to her ability to grasp many of the concepts she has yet to grasp. And lastly, and I should add, most importantly, she told me that she has come to the conclusion that in this world, people who do not have any experience with adoption just don't get it.
THEY JUST DON'T GET IT.
These words really stuck with me for the remainder of the week. And somehow, they made me feel better. Even though that seems odd, since it's not an "answer" or a "resolution" to the problem. But honestly, I think she is right. No matter how hard I try to explain it to some people, they still say the same hurtful, insensitive (in my opinion) things about adoption. So it is probably a little calming to think that the reason for this has nothing to do with what kind of person they are and everything to do with the fact that they just don't get it. I wish those words "real parents" didn't bother me, I really do. But to me they are insulting because that person is saying that my parents are in some way "fake", "worthless", and "meaningless". And I know that that's not what the person means, in my head I really do, but as we all know, words hurt. So I think that's why they are such hot button words for me.
What my mom pointed out is that I can't change my stepdaughter's mind, now matter how hard I try. But my real worry at this point is that she is going to go out into the world and be insensitive to others. Not to mention the kinds of things she might end up saying to my daughter to hurt her feelings (albeit unintentionally). That one really gets me fired up, as all of you parents understand. Hurt me all you want but stay the heck away from my daugher, you know? Anyway, I guess I have some extra work to do to get her to understand that she can feel however she wants to, but that her words can hurt others and that's what she needs to keep in check. Who knows. This parenting thing is tough, and it's even tougher when you're a "part-time" parent. But that's another blog entirely.
I thought that some of you might have had similar issues, perhaps with other children you had in your home prior to adopting. Or maybe children in your extended family who have interactions with your child. I do think that it's tough to remember that comments like this from kids are a bit different than comments like this from adults, just by virtue of the fact that they are made by kids. I obviously don't have the answers here. But I did learn something from all this. Sometimes people just don't get it. And that's okay, they don't have to and we can't make them. However, at least if we keep that in mind, we might save ourselves just a little bit of "going mad" trying to figure out where they are coming from.
So this week I did one of those lab research studies, the ones where they don't tell you what products they will use on you but you agree to be a guinea pig and they pay you for your time. This particular lab deals in cosmetics and skin care. I head in and right away the person checking me in says, "Wow, this will be so great, you're so nice and dark that this will be very easy!", whatever that means. But she says it with a smile and I know that she genuinely means the "great" part. So I go into the first room and the person who does that test says, "What beautiful skin you have, you probably never burn and always tan in the sun, right?" (Yes, this was actually part of the process, they needed to fill out an evaluation regarding my skin tone.) Of course I reply yes. So she goes on to fill out the evaluation and ends by saying, "This is so exciting, you are the highest score we've had all day!" And even though I realize that a high score in this case probably doesn't necessarily mean superiority as a human being perse, I still feel a little spring in my step as I exit this room and move on to the next. In the hallway that I travel down to get to the next room, there are four women standing there, two are other "subjects" and two are other employees of the lab. I am met by various comments happening simultaneously that sound like, "What a beautiful color she is", and "Oh my gosh I know that's her natural skin tone but it looks so good on her". I'm now starting to get a little embarassed, but can't help but feel special with all this attention. I go into the next room to be photographed, and the employee taking the pictures is hearing all of the comments outside the room as well. She says, "You probably get that all the time". I smile, but what I'm really thinking is, "Um, not really, so if you want to continue it it's fine with me". The next station is one where they apply different types of foundation and see which one matches my skin tone the best. "What a nice change this is to be able to use different colors instead of the same old shade time after time like I've been doing all day", this employee says. When she discovers which ones match, she writes them down with a flourish, and ushers me to the next room, saying to the person in charge of that station, "This is so great, I got to use a whole different set of colors and my entry on her was the first of it's kind today." The last station involves more of the same types of compliments, I'll spare you the continued detail.
So what is the point of this entry, you ask? Well, I got to thinking on my way home that many times we are so worried about the fact that our kids look different from us, or in my case, that I look so different from my parents. We worry about the discrimination that the children will face. We get self-conscious about strangers staring at us and wonder what they are thinking. We may snap at those who ask us where our children are from or get defensive when people compliment them on their coloring. But sometimes, as it turns out, there may be people who genuinely admire us for our color. They appreciate the differences that we bring to what can be a monochromatic crowd of folks in some cities/areas of the country. While it's true, as mentioned above, that I do not get this kind of attention on a daily basis, I can think back if I make the effort to many a person who has admired or even envied my skin shade. Cool! I'm brown and proud, yeah, that's it!
So let your kids be proud of themselves in every way, including appearance. While we are being so careful trying to get our kids to "fit in", and not "stand out" in a bad way, we may sometimes forget that there can be pride in who they are and what they look like as well. That way when they are adults and get complimented like this, they will have the self-confidence to smile, say thank-you, and walk out of that lab with a bounce in their steps that may last them the rest of the day.
Just got on my treadmill for the first time since my daughter got home. I was afraid I was going to have to oil up the belt or something, it was so dusty. Whew. But luckily I made it through a decent (albeit it short) workout.
Anyhoo, it occurred to me that I never followed up with the report on the adoption service at my church that was supposed to happen way back in January but that got cancelled due to snow. It actually did happen, on Mother's Day nonetheless, which of course I was very excited about.
I was so nervous preparing for this service that I actually started to completely re-write what I had written back in January because I was so sure that it was awful. Finally, after attempting to edit and re-edit, I decide on just a few minor changes and that I just needed to move on. I was clearly obsessing. Ha. The funny thing is that of all the audiences I've ever had, I knew that this one would be the best. My husband and I have been attending this church for 4 1/2 years, and we've felt nothing but love from all of our fellow members. They've supported and helped us through good times and bad during our time there. So it's odd that I felt so much pressure! I think I just wanted the message to be "perfect", you know? Because this was my one shot at telling the whole congregation, all at once, my story.
Well, I'll spare you any more suspense and just tell you that it went great! I went slightly (ahem) over my allotted 10-minute time frame (who can tell their life story in just 10 minutes? - - that's my defense anyway), and I went "off script" a bit when I was so moved to do so. But all in all, I felt confident that I'd shared with the group my experience and how wonderful it was. There was another speaker after me, a father of two, a son through pregnancy and a daughter through adoption from Korea, and I felt that we did a nice job of balancing each other out. He spoke from the parent's side, and since I had just started that chapter in my life, I spoke from the adoptee's side. Our minister read the story, "Over the Moon" by Karen Katz as the children's story, which made me cry. She also read some comments from women who gave birth to children and then made adoption plans for them, which also provided a different perspective for the congregation. All in all I thought it was a wonderful picture of adoption that we all painted.
I received some great comments from the congregants as well, as they went through the receiving line. After every service, any speakers that have participated line up next to our minister to shake hands and greet the folks who were in the service. There were several people who came up to me with their children who had been adopted, who thanked me profusely for my perspective. Then there were actually two people who came up to me and shared that they too, had always wanted to adopt instead of have children through pregnancy - - and here I thought I was the only one! My personal favorite, however, was a woman who came up and told me that she was so moved by how wonderful adoption was and by how I felt that it was the only way - - as opposed to the best way - - to have children, that she almost felt guilty for not having adopted her kids! Wow, I thought, that's extreme. But hey, whatever works to get the message across, right?? ;-)
Oh, and by the way, I almost forgot, if anyone is interested in reading a typewritten transcript of this adoption sermon from my church, please e-mail me and I will send you the link to my church's website, where they have all sermon transcripts.
Anyway, I just wanted to follow up on that for those of you who have been faithful readers from the beginning. Have a great Thanksgiving, and remember all that you have to be thankful for!!
Okay then. So, I've been out of the loop for a bit. I finally come out from my "new mom" hideout to find a lot is happening with Guatemalan adoptions. And you know those people who avoid any kind of news (radio, TV, papers) on purpose because all that's out there is grief and negative stories and it's enough to make you never want to leave your bed in the morning? Yeah, well, that would be me. So after getting sucked in to many stories and countless late nights on the Internet getting really fired up, I chose to put my head back under the covers. I started to write here a million times but either ended up with writer's block or found myself with the urge to write something negative about all that's going on, which I didn't want to do.
One thing that is making me sad is that I've seen so many adult adoptees who have written about how adoption is, in their opinion, horrible, and how it should be stopped. That's really depressing to me. And then I started to feel like I was some sort of freak because I've had such a great life and because I am an adoption advocate. I guess that is what can happen any time you have a value or opinion questioned though. My husband loves debates because he values the opportunity to be forced to see the "other side" of arguments. Not me. I don't want to see the other side, I want to be right! Kidding - mostly. I've wanted to write back to some of the people with opposite opinions to tell my side but end up chickening out. And then I want to post a comment on some of these articles on other sites just so at least the rest of the world knows that there is someone out there whose experience differs.
I guess that's what this is then. My feeble attempt at saying, "Hey world, guess what? I think adoption is wonderful and my life is wonderful, and I love my parents, and I think it's so wonderful that I turned around and adopted my daughter!" Don't get me wrong, I know that every situation is different and so I do not in any way believe that these folks who are anti-adoption are "wrong" to feel that way. They only know what they know, and of course their opinions and feelings are just as important as anyone's. I also respect the individuals who have to make an adoption plan for children to whom they give birth, and I am not trying to minimize their roles either. I just feel like I needed to get this off my chest in some way, and it's too cold to get on the roof to shout it. Plus I'd wake my daughter up.
Anyway, feel free to put comments here to give me ideas on what else you all want me to write about, thereby helping out with my writer's block. When I started writing these, I had this big long list of stuff that was organized and all set to go. Then one day I became a mom, and somehow I lost just about every list I had going. But I'm back up and running again, no worries.
Hi all. Okay, I can't even begin to apologize enough for how I've fallen off the face of the earth since I've become a mother. So I won't. I'll just say I am sorry and move on!
So, here's something that has come up only through my going through the adoption process on this end. Our agency had many materials that we were required to read. In one of them, they talked about how "adopted" is a verb used to describe a legal process that has a definitive beginning and a definitive end. This literature mentioned that "adopted" should not be used as an adjective to describe a person, much like other types of characteristics are used to describe a person, like funny, tall, educated, etc. This is the first time I had ever heard of this, but to be honest, ever since I read that, I have to correct people when they use it the adjective way. I thought, "you know, they are right!". People have often said, "oh, you are adopted"? Now when they say that (it comes up all the time now when people learn I have a daughter who just came home), I feel like I have to say, "No, I WAS adopted. It's over, it happened already". I actually like explaining this to people as yet another piece of the educating others puzzle that I've decided is part of my mission in life. So, I just thought I'd share this brief thought with you.
Now, I realize that there is a neverending list of things people think they can or can't say and be offensive or non-offensive. That's not what this is here. It's just a statement of fact that I had never considered. Adoption is a legal process. It has a beginning and an end. Then it's over. So it makes perfect sense to me to treat it that way when we are referring to human beings, rather than singling them out with a description that really isn't accurate.
But as always folks, this is just my opinion. :-)
Hope everyone's Spring is going along well!
Hi there! Long time, no blog. Sorry folks. This whole first-time-mom thing is hard work!! But, I'm back, and I will really try to get more into the regular swing of things again.
So, this is another FAQ that I get often. And you know, it's a tough one. My parents didn't know the language and so they weren't able to teach it to me. Since this was before the time of language classes for babies and kids that are now out there all over it seems, there weren't a whole lot of resources for busy parents to add this to their laundry list of stuff to teach a child. I really don't fault them at all. Unless you are fluent already, I think it would be very difficult to teach your child a language from scratch. So the thing is, yes, I wish I were fluent in Spanish. But again, I do not always think it is possible for folks to do this. I guess my suggestion would be that if there is anyway you can do it, do it. It most certainly will not hurt, and as you probably know, it is so much easier for kids to learn a language when they are young than when they get into middle school or high school and take it for a class. I didn't take it until college, and by then, it was just a chore. Another class with homework, you know? So, I really wish I had been interested earlier and grabbed onto it when I was still young enough to catch on quickly. I even tried to take classes as an adult. Well, add those to a full-time job and other activities, and you can imagine how productive those classes were. So anyway, like I said, if you can do it, do it. My husband and I plan to do our best with our daughter, even though neither one of us is fluent. But giving her something is better than nothing, right?
And, speaking of our wonderful daughter, yes, I will write more about her later. Sorry I'm all business tonight, but I just got overwhelmed with guilt for shirking my blogging responsibilities! And there's only so much free time here after her bedtime arrives and before mine comes, haha! But rest assured that our trip was wonderful, our daughter is wonderful, and I am very much enjoying being a mom!! We are very lucky in that we had absolutely nothing go wrong and in that she is a very happy and healthy baby.
Have a great week!
We have our visa appointment on Tuesday. Whew. We leave this Sunday. So, don't hold it against me, but things might be kind of quiet on here for a while...I'll do what I can though, I promise!!! I just wanted to let all of you know! See 'ya on the flip side, as a mom!!
So I'm going to veer off the frequently asked questions path just for a moment to talk about my first trip back to Guatemala. It's something I didn't mention during the story of my life portion, but I think it's something you all might be interested in reading about. And since I'm very close (hopefully) to receiving pink, I'm writing this realizing that I'm about to make my second trip there soon. So, I guess I figured that the time is right.
My parents had always wanted to take me back to Guatemala. However, the war lasted until I was almost out of high school. Then came college, and with it a myriad of other trips, time constraints, and other general distractions for me. So honestly, the time just never seemed to be right.
Then one day I got connected with a non-profit that does work to end the cycle of poverty in Guatemala through education. They invited me to go on a trip with them, where we'd be delivering books to rural schools, as well as donating school supplies, opening libraries, and starting computer labs. Here it was, my chance to return to the country of my birth. And not just as a tourist, but as someone helping my people. What a wonderful opportunity!
Right before we left, I was contacted by an individual who was also going on the trip. She was a journalist, and wanted to know if I'd be willing to have the trip filmed and recorded in parts and pieces, for a TV spot on the local news. I hesitated for a moment, as this was unexpected. But, as you can obviously tell, I've never been shy about telling my story, so I figured, sure, why not?
We were in Guatemala for about two weeks. Overall, the trip was amazing. Such a beautiful place, such beautiful people. I was so eager to see where it was I would have lived out my life had it not been for my wonderful parents finding me. I went with no expectations at all, which was really hard for people to understand. "What are you hoping to find?", my fellow trip-goers would ask me. "How do you feel?", they'd inquire on different days along the way. It actually started to become uncomfortable at times, because I'd think I was letting them down by not having exciting, sexy answers to these questions. The truth was really not very glamorous at all. I was simply there to be there. That's it. That's all. I wasn't looking for anything. I didn't feel anything. I just wanted to be. And that was really hard for people to understand. In fact, I'm sure some of you are reading this right now and going, "huh?". But honestly, I just wanted to open my eyes and see. I wanted to stand there and smell. I wanted to breathe in the air. I looked around me at the people with whom I belonged, ethnicity-wise. It was funny, I think I expected to step off the plane and see a bunch of clones, all of whom looked like me. Ha. But in reality, it was just like anywhere else in the world, everyone looked different. Sure, there weren't as many varieties of shapes and sizes, hair colors, eye colors, etc. as in the United States. But still, everyone somehow looked different from one another. And I did see simiarities to me, which made me feel happy in some way. I never "fit in" looks-wise here in the States, and although it doesn't bother me, it was also a kind of cool feeling to be somewhere where I did.
The microphone and camera did get a little intrusive at times, but I'm glad I did it. The story that aired was really cool to tape and have forever. Of course it was just a small snippet of the trip overall, but still a good momento to have. The best part, that they did catch on camera, was when a woman at one of the schools came up to me and said some lovely things in Spanish to me. I could tell they were lovely because of the tone of her voice, her facial expression, and the tears in her eyes. But unfortunately, my Spanish was not good enough to catch everything, so I ran off to the tour bus crying. I found my (then) boyfriend (now husband), and told him what had happened. He grabbed one of the tour-goers who was fluent, told her what had happened, and she whisked me back to the woman and explained the situation. The woman then repeated herself while my newfound interpreter translated. What she said that day will live forever in my heart, although I could never recount for you word for word what the message was. The overall summary is that she said she was so happy to see how my life had turned out, to see how happy I was and what a great person I seemed to be. She said that she was honored to meet me and so glad that I had returned to my country. She said not to worry, because I'd always have a place and a home there, in Guatemala. And then she hugged me and held me while I cried like a baby.
Whew. Kind of heavy for a Sunday morning, eh? Sorry. I guess I didn't know where I'd head with this until I started.
So. That was my first trip back. And very soon, possibly in a matter of a few days, I'll be back there again. This time I'll be meeting my daughter for the first time. There we will be, two generations of Guatemalan women whose lives will be a blend of cultures forever. I can't wait to see things through her eyes someday. And I'm sure we will return together as well in the future. I feel like time is standing still almost, like I'm looking back and remembering my life so far, and looking forward to imagine what hers will be. All I know is, I have my seatbelt fasted and I am ready for this ride.