Archive for March, 2015

Questions people ask

Monday, March 30th, 2015

A while back, a friend posted on my Facebook page a photo montage that had been going around, by adoptive mother and photographer Kim Kelley-Wagner, whose two daughters were born in China. The montage shows the girls holding white boards hand-printed with comments people have said to or about them over the years. Some included “They send their babies here so they can become spies when they get older” and “Your mom could have bought a nice car instead of adopting you.”

A few people expressed surprise when they saw the montage, asking if similar comments had been made to us. They have, although with less frequency than they used to. At this point—my kids are almost 13 and 10–we have our routines and schedules, our circles who know us. Comments occur–or maybe it’s curiosity?–when we go outside the circle. So, a new school for 10-year-old Mateo, a different kid in a class, a first-time activity or sport will provoke a fresh round of inquiries. Questions like. “Why didn’t your real mom want you?” Or “Is she your real mom?” The questions are not intended to hurt, but they affect my children on some deep level. We go through this periodically.

Another place this happens, perhaps not surprisingly, is Guatemala. (Where we visit often.) Always, we are subjected to many looks, some questions, and a degree of judgement. (Which is understandable, but still! Repercussions occur within my children.)

And I realize, again, that as the biological offspring of my two parents, I never experienced this. My belonging was never called into question, the way it is for my children.

Then today, out of nowhere, another example occurred. As we got out of the car, Mateo said, “You know that DVD I watched last week, ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’?” And I’m thinking, You mean the one released by Disney, rated PG, and based on a book written by the famously sensitive Judith Viorst?

I kept my tone neutral. “Yes?”

“One of the girl characters says to a boy character, ‘Are you sure you’re not adopted?’” Mateo emphasized the word ‘adopted’ with a sneer.  “She said adopted like he was bad because he was adopted. Because he wasn’t like anyone else in his family, so he was weird.“

I stayed quiet for a moment. “How did that make you feel?”

“Sad.” He sniffed, wiping his eyes with the edge of his shirt. “If you’re watching the movie and you’re not part of an adoptive family, you don’t care. But if you’re adopted, you get it.”

I pulled him close, reassuring Mateo that I understood, that as his mother through adoption, I got it, too.

I don’t know why I’m writing about this, except I want to remember this phase of my family’s life. We love one another. That’s a given. Which is not the same as saying that every day everything is easy and simple.   ~

(PS: At the bottom of the page, it says “Comments are closed.” I don’t know why.)



Article on adoption by Todd VanDerWerff

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Genes aren’t destiny, and other things I’ve learned about being adopted,” by Todd VanDerWerff, a writer who is adopted, resonated for me. Number 6, especially, made sense: “Transracial adoptees often have it hardest of all.”

I forget where I was recently, but this conversation came up, and the conclusion reached by the participants was that one of the hardest things about being adopted was the transracial piece–the “not looking like my parents”–because the fact of adoption could not then be avoided. In other words, the reality was plain for the world to see, even if one wished that it weren’t, at that moment, if ever.

This, in addition to the expected issues caused by possibly being “the only [fill in the blank] person” within a large radius. Plus, being subjected to racism–subtle or egregious.

I also admire the way VanDerWerff presents side by side two (seemingly) contradictory statements, such as: “Your adopted family is your ‘real’ family” and “It’s also not your real family, and that can make you feel like an alien.”


The longer I’m an adoptive parent, the more I understand how complex the subject is–to me, there is no subject more complex–and in this article, Todd VanDerWerff expresses some of that complexity. Bravo.


Mm 4

Friday, March 20th, 2015

I was in San Diego for the weekend visiting my folks, when the idea came over me that I must cut off all my hair, immediately. This occurred at 7:30 at night, and San Diego shuts down early. I drove around in search of an open salon and found a place with a sign advertising “$25 For You!” (If you know me, you know my weakness for a bargain.)

Perhaps it’s not my best look, but the hairdresser escaped Vietnam in 1975 during the Fall of Saigon, and as she snipped and shaped, told me her life story. I’d say I got my money’s worth.


My mother 3

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

Something else I’ve learned about dementia, which has taken over the mind of my 86-year-old mother. It’s relentless. There is no backward movement. Only the push forward. I think of the brain, now, as a live organ that can erode. On some level, I knew this. Although I’m not sure I understood what it meant.


Where am I? she wonders. What is this place?

You’re home, I say.  This is your house.

This isn’t 28th Street. (the house she grew up in, back in Virginia.) I don’t recognize these walls. (Looking across the room. In a whisper.) Who are those people?

Your daughters, Mom. The oldest and youngest.

This is a terrible situation. (clawing at the arms of her chair.) I want to get out of it. But I can’t.


Nothing will make this better.

The person you love is not coming back.






Book recommendation, The Year She Left Us

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

On Sunday, our “adoption book group” met to discuss Kathryn Ma’s The Year She Left Us. Several of us in the group are parents to tweens, teens, and young adults, so the novel’s themes–short version: a young woman adopted from China struggles with loss and identity–really spoke to us. A good book does that. So here I am, recommending it again.

The Year She Left Us, by Kathryn Ma. Check it out.