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Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Sparkly, Winged Elephant

Parts One, Two and Three. This is Part Four.

So... there we were, the Husband and me, listening to our cousins, reading adult adoptee blogs and freaking out about this whole new world out there... and I realized what I really needed to do was just take a few deep breaths. Because rarely did I ever read (and never once did I hear from our cousins) that adoptees hate their adoptive parents.

What I read (and heard) was that there were some aspects of adoption that are just plain difficult.

Well... duh.

Except I hadn't actually considered all of that before. Here was my daughter, hurting immeasurably, and I had not truly allowed her losses to sink into my awareness. Now... for those of y'all with little ones in your home, who entered your life through adoption, and who truly don't understand what I am talking about... feel blessed. Make sure that you've opened your eyes. Empty your cup. Don't assume it will never happen. And feel blessed.

But don't tell me that I created this situation. Or that I am making a mountain out of a molehill, assigning a typical childhood issue with an adoption label. (Yes, y'all, I received yet another email yesterday telling me that.) I promise y'all something... a mother knows. She knows in her gut when her child is grieving. She just knows.

And I did know.

I watched the Tongginator come alive as we began incorporating more Chinese language into our home. I started taking Mandarin classes myself, since the Tongginator was too young for all of the local options. I actively sought out relationships with other adoptive families and with Asian-American families. And we began incorporating more Chinese-American culture into our lives. It made a HUGE difference in the Tongginator's attachment to us.

Not every child is the Tongginator though.

I know some of y'all have children who cringe and hide whenever they hear conversations about China. I know some of y'all have children who avoid you for hours after someone brings up adoption in conversation. I've seen it happen. And I have no advice for y'all... because I've never lived through that. The Tongginator acted in the exact opposite manner. Every time we "talked adoption," her attachment to us grew. Sometimes she cried - sure - but she also connected with us rather than withdrawing. She blossomed.

There is no one right way to parent an adoptee, y'all.

Except to empty your cup.

Over those next few years, I realized that many adults want to adopt, but not all of them want to be adoptive parents. It's almost as if they see the differences as less than... as if those differences somehow threaten their relationship with their children or their status as "real" parents... as if addressing the losses will somehow create or strengthen those losses.

But I see it all as the elephant in the room.

We can ignore the elephant, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.

Personally, I'd rather be able to describe the elephant, in detail, so that I know exactly what it is I am up against... what it is exactly that my child is up against. And - knowing my Tongginator - that elephant of hers is probably adorned with pink and purple stripes, sporting butterfly wings and sparkling trunk to tail in glitter.

That doesn't sound very scary now, does it?

If I'm honest, though, I need to admit that I spent a couple of months crying a ton. I worked through the Tongginator's story by creating her lifebook, so that - when she was ready to work through her story - I could walk alongside her without making it all about me. And I cried for my cousins, too. Because it wasn't that they had never felt the tough stuff before... it was that they hadn't felt they could trust me with it until I finally managed to empty my cup.

Which means they had spent their childhoods unable to trust me with their core selves.

How lonely they must have felt.

That's not to say that they hate their adoptive parents. Or that they blame adoption for all the ills of their lives. But imagine being the only Asian-American in your elementary school... and only one of two children of color in the entire school? And imagine growing up in a society that expects you to feel grateful for something that not only caused you pain, but that you had absolutely no control over?

Learning about these issues... acknowledging them... addressing them... I am still learning how to do all of this. But I won't ever stop. Because it's important.

Because I never want the Tongginator to feel she has to hide her core self from me.

What have y'all found helps your children share their core selves?


bbmomof2boys said...

Great series of posts TM. Shame on the naysayers who emailed you. They just don't get it - they don't get that our kids grief is real. Our attachment with Little T has been easy and for that I'm so so thankful. Being a heart baby and just having surgery a month or less before we became a family I believe that she had little interaction with the Ayi. But our Little T was pretty tough and was just waiting for her parents to come get her. Yes, we are so blessed!

You did a wonderful job learning about your T, learning what she needed, and opening your eyes to her needs. I know that journey was long and hard and that you are still going down that bumpy road. Keep trusting your gut because you are so right, a momma just knows!


Aus said...

Good morning TM - this has been just SUPER!!

You couldn't be more correct in what you are saying - there is no 'one way' to parent ANY child - much less and adopted one. Adopted kids have a wound - they were abandoned in some fashion. Failing to deal with that wound - WHENEVER IT APPEARS - is a part of adoptive parenting. And it doesn't matter if the adopting in international or domestic - and abandoned child, orphaned child, or a surrendered child - cross cultural, trans-racial, or none of the above. The child will always know that their parents 'gave them away'...and that just plain and simple sucks. By example -
our oldest adopted, now 7.5 years, has started having nightmares that both Marie and I are 'gone' (means varies - sometimes just gone - sometimes die) and none of her older siblings (25, 24, and 21) can get to her....sound like a nightmare based on her history? Yesterday we were working in the yard and both Marie and I ended up in front of the house grabbing some mulch and plants while she was in the back spreading some mulch, she looked up and couldn't see us - and had a complete melt down - she's old enough to call it a panic attack - because we weren't there....all you can do is hold and reassure - and remember that next time you let her know you are running out front for a few minutes!

Does that mean other non-adopted kids wouldn't have that experience? No - but - this is our adopted daughter, not another kid!

I've said many times that adoptive parenting is NOT for everybody. That doesn't make them any better or worse a parent than we are - it means that they know their own limitations. I praise them for the introspection and honesty with themselves and their kids! (For my part - I could never foster parent a child - and I know that to the very fibre of my soul - but that's another post!)

Keep on keeping on - mourn the losses - reassure the now - love unconditionally....and stay dynamic so that you can keep making it up as you go along....kind of at the root and soul of parenting!

hugs - many of them - and thanks for sharing you heart....

aus and co.

Desiree' said...

you know that is the one thing I miss and I am sure it has a direct affect on Hope and her many night terrors since we moved here. All the places we've lived before we had great China connections, not just with Chinese friends but with other adoptive families. Since moving here we have had nothing, I have tried but people are either to busy or not as interested in getting together here....SInce this is a permanant move, I am stuck and my kids are suffering for it...

Elizabeth@Romans8:15 said...

My son has just turned 3, and since he hasn't been home for 6 months yet, the language thing is still growing. It seems to help him to watch home videos from Korea. We watch videos of him at his foster home, then the videos of us with him in Korea, and then the videos from Christmas of us at home. We always watch them in this sequence to help illustrate what happened. Sometimes it is hard to read his emotions DURING the watching but after, he seems much more connected to us.

We stay in close contact with his foster family. They recently made him a video for his birthday. The first time I showed it to him, he watched for a few seconds and walked away. The next time, he watched it over and over saying "more birthday!". So sometimes there are mixed signals, but I persist while respecting his reactions.

We also look at his pictures from Korea. I have a lifebook template ready to go, but with the 2 three-year old boys around here, I haven't done much more than that.

His foster sister (who is my age and fluent in English) is coming to visit with us for 7-10 days in June. I don't really know how he will react, but we will try to follow his cues during that time to make him as comfortable as possible.

We are also selling our house and looking in a new neighborhood that has more diversity in general, but specifically a higher Asian population, and a large Korean church. I am hoping that will have a positive impact on our family as a whole.

April said...

When we came home with Prim we were in the unique position to be surrounded by a huge international student community. We often ran into Thia men and women and asked them to speak Thai to our new daughter as if she were a new shiny toy to put on display. The first time it happened she looked so confused and just started crying. It was awful. But did that stopping me from trying again? Nope-cue large dunce cap. I really thought it would help her and tried again. Not only did she cry but she clung to me for hours. Whatever it made her feel she couldn't process, couldn't handle. We stopped.
It's also interesting b/c when we were in Thailand she rejected all Thia food when she was with us. We were given a long list of her favorites and she rejected each and every one. She was grieving in her own way and we really tried our best to respect that-but it was hard watching her reject what she knew and loved the most.
My heart broke for her daily.

Patricia/NYC said...

Another wonderful post, TM!!

With Kiara, she grieved those first few months, at night, sobbing in her crib, night after night. We had naysayers as well, fluffing it off as "oh she just doesn't want to go to sleep", "she wants you in the room", & the one that really makes me cringe: "let her cry it out!" (yeah, right)

Attachment is an ongoing process. When I hear people say things like, "Oh she attached to me after 2 days in China", I'm thinking, oh no, it does NOT happen in 2 days or 2 weeks or 2 years.

I know Miss K is attached, and I also know how deep & sensitive she is...I know "stuff" will continue to come up for her & the best we can do for her is LISTEN...I know there is a tiny part of her that is still "locked"...naysayers tell me the "mountain out of the molehill" thing too, which is why we don't talk about it anymore...it's personal, it's private; which is why I am so grateful for this online community where we can be safe & learn from each other.

You are providing a great service to this community with these posts, TM!! GREAT JOB!!!

Carla said...

You do ask the tough questions...

For our little "Princess" at home, we go through her little hyper vigilance and OCD like tendencies in regards to where we will be. I have China artwork displayed, I have photos from China displayed, and we have art books on China out. I have photos from our trip to adopt her on the computer and we talk about them.

She mentions her foster parents often, and others in our family tell me that she's just making it up, or going off of things we told her because at 16 months she was too young to remember. I truly believe she remembers, and she asks me if I love her foster parents? She tells me she loves them and watches me intently for my reaction...and I know. She's testing this thing called love out - does it have boundaries with us? is it finite?

and lifebook? I so have GOT to do that.

Magi said...

Great posts as always.

I'll be the first to admit that we've had it really easy. Sometimes I worry that I'm a little hypervigilant. Anytime something comes up I flip back and forth in my mind trying to decide if it's just standard development or adoption related. I try to be aware, but I don't want to over-react. Know what I mean?

This week had a perfect example. I posted about Sera questioning why she was different. My mind immediately went to the idea that she's noticing her Asian features compared to ours. It wasn't. She was talking about being small. She wants to be big like me. So not adoption related, but normal childhood desire to be all grown up.

I don't really mind being this vigilant though. I'd rather be open and talk about these things casually and regularly instead of making a big deal about it. I hope that way she will always feel comfortable bringing her questions to me.

Anonymous said...

My son, adopted almost 40 years ago, just had his first child and is once again asking lots of questions about his own adoption. I have always been very open and honest and I am glad I have been even though at times I haven't been able to provide all the answers. For him to look at someone for the first time that shares his genes has been very moving for him and for me. Certainly it has been another time of sharing of our core selves by both of us.

Sarah said...

Again, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your writing. It is amazing and moving to "hear" you talk about your relationship and journey for understanding as a parent. I am really getting a lot out of it.

As for those who feel the need to tell you that you're making a mountain out of a molehill, I would like to add a caveat. I have people in my family that often do the same thing, and they usually fall into two categories. One is the set who normalize the behavior that is far out of range. It happened to us and we "handled" it, so get over it. The other set is those who are super uncomfortable about having to face any kind of gentle curiosity and awareness about something very painful. It's almost as if when you bring it up, you threaten their ability to ignore it and minimize it, so they feel a strong need to shut you up. Sometimes, I get that from people with both problems.

If it's not coming from a voice of compassion, it's coming from a place that is not helpful to you and your wonder child. And as compassionate as you are, I am so glad that you are willing to empty your cup, not only to learn in your life, but also to share it with others. What an incredible blessing to share with us. Thank you for doing so.

autumnesf said...

Love this series. It absolutely floors me how side-by-sides our walking and growing has been at the same time as your family. (Although I think I read about a billion books on China, adoption and race.)

Unfortunately I have not had adoptees or others to talk to about these things as I've learned and did most of it on the internet. Which means when I started asking questions I got slaughtered. How dare the white woman open her mouth and ask questions. Its all my fault to begin with. Yep, been a rough road to travel when all I wanted was to learn. And occasionally I had to walk away from it...and just talk to myself. LOL.

But we all learn and grow right?
Well, at least I STRIVE to learn and grow and do what is best for my daughter.

Lisa said...


You already know a bit about our journey with L and our huge and ongoing learning curve. We have been blessed with fairly straightforward paths of attachment with both of our children, but never for a single moment do I expect it to be static or "completed". I think of it as a fluid dance, evolving and changing just as their needs and life experiences evolve & change.

I think there was a reason you and the sweet TG found one another and are walking through this journey together.

Briana's Mom said...

Briana is definitely talking more and more about being a baby in China - often the subject comes out of the blue. When she brings the subject up, I try to answer her questions openly and honestly and I often ask her questions of my own. Sometimes she answers my questions and sometimes she just changes the subject. What I am finding right now with Bri is that she is willing to talk about it for a couple of minutes and then she is done. Ready to move on to other things. I try not to push because I can tell she doesn't want to talk about it anymore, and I tell her whenever she wants to talk about China to let me know. I am happy that Briana feels comfortable talking to me about her life in China so far. I hope it stays that way.

The Byrd's Nest said...

You're on a roll sister! So proud of you!

So wonderful that your daughter related and felt comfortable around Mandarin and people who were Asian. Lottie? Never....not even today. I try and try and try to get her to speak to Asian people and she will NOT. She will talk about China (a little at a time) but she is terrified of Asian people? Now, I will admit (and this may not go well with other parents) that I am NOT one of those parents that daydreams about how well my child was taken care of in the orphanage. Yes, I think they did they best they could with what they had but in reality I have no idea what happened to her there except she suffers from trauma and she has a real fear of Asian people. I pray that over time we can help her with this fear and help her to love China and the people even more throughout her life. I look forward to asking lots of questions about this:)

Kristi said...

I've enjoyed reading this series! It's given me a lot of food for thought. It's interesting to me how each of my children seem to already at the young ages of 4, 3 1/2, & 3 express their thoughts on all things "China and adoption" differently. So true that there is no one way to parent an adopted child. I live that statement! And I'm reading, and listening, and learning. Cause I never want to look back and realize that I shut my eyes to something just because it is hard to think about. Thank you TM!

Raina said...

Hi TM. Good post, and I'm also getting a lot out of the comments.

You know what's interesting for me is that I'm struggling to reconcile what was done wrong with my generation, with how to be better for my daughter. No, we did not talk adoption. No, that was not a safe subject. Nor was race, isolation, teasing, abandonment, grieving, etc. we. did. not. talk. about it. And that is why so many of us are emotionally repressed and ocassionally angry. I mean, I'm just learning how to think about these things, let alone actually deal with them. But my point -> how do I make it better for my daughter. Little disconnect there. I'm fortunate to have the confidence that comes with parenting 3 biological kids.

I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. But I have a sense that Empathy, Compassion, Open-mindedness, and a Willingness to Listen are key.

Mike and Barb said...

Thanks for all of your recent posts - I'm slowly working my way through them!
I'm obviously new to your blog, but plan on "stayin'"
Adoption parenting can be such a "maze" - we assume we're on the right track until we hit another dead end. Refocusing. Picking up t he pieces and marching on...
Couldn't do it without God..
Barb (1 1/2 times adoptive Mom)

aamayna said...

I recently found your blog and I LOVE it! My daughter is younger (I think) then yours so it gives me great hope and insight to hear your words. My dd is from Guatemala...from an institution. She has emotional wounds and scars and weare in therapy....but it is helping! And we are learning!! I loved your quote about "a lot of people want to adopt but dono't want to be adoptive parents". I know a lot of adoptive parents like that. I wish I could get them to read your blog! Whenever I try (and I do and go in kicks and spurts) and talk about this stuff on my blog I get little comments. When I post pictures, I get tons. Go figure.

Kris said...

I have really enjoyed this series of posts. I am still learning every day. One thing I KNOW for sure is my daughter suffered a great loss and went through a pretty serious grieving period when we brought her home. The loss is just enormous and I didn't really "get" that as a PAP.

Aunt LoLo said...

I'm loving this. It makes me think...related, of course, to my own life situation. (Which is..parenting a spirited and independent and loyal and loving and high-strung three year old that could be my inside-me clone.) I'm trying to learn to listen more...to everybody. To my baby sister as she tries to figure her life out. To Ming Wai as she comes out of her room to tell me just one more (seventh) thing at night. To friends who just need to vent about life without me interjecting myself.

Kris said...

okay. so what we'll do HERE is a SERIES of articles for some damn magazine. good plan :O)

empty your cup. that is the best message and oh so very true.

i have found one on one time- even if only "playing" together, really helps E open up. looking at her life book that New Hope Foster Home made or all her pictures from her time in China (we have well over 200).

Michal said...

Well, I have been thinking about our son in China and when we get him and I know have a new mantra "empty your cup". This is exactly what you have to do. Empty yourself out and meet them where they are.

Ev is exactly opposite of your T. She will absolutely walk away from me if she needs to. We ARE adopting her brother though and his adoption has been the one thing that has helped her look at her time in China and it is what has empowered her to forge ahead with questions and she has FINALLY started to let me into her little heart on tis matter. She used to get mad and run away but she is even now asking to see the movies and pictures from China.
When you say that parenting each child is different? Amen to that. There I was, a new adoptive Mom with everything and everyone telling you how to incorporate the adoption story, the books, the talks...I had to gulp and head out on my own because that was absolutely everything wrong for Evelyn. I had to get rid of all the story books, I had to stop saying proudly "you were born in China", I put up all the home movies of our trip to get her. And then I focused on loving her and making her feel like she was integral to the family. I know that for some kids this needs to happen along with their adoption story. Uh uh- not Ev. As she has become more and more stable here with us, she opens up more about China. It's like watching a flower bloom in real time- slow immeasurable changes that mean she is opening up, revealing herself to us. It's okay- I have all the time in the world.

Chelsea Gour said...

I think the best statement in this whole series, which was full of great insights and thoughts, is "And imagine growing up in a society that expects you to feel grateful for something that not only caused you pain, but that you had absolutely no control over?"

I have a child that would most certainly have died at a very young age of kidney failure without coming to America, and that statement shakes me to the core....because it is still very true regardless of how much she needed to be adopted.

Cavatica said...

I'm loving this series and the idea of emptying your cup. I still don't really know how the adoption issues will be played out with us, as the first two years have been easy - much different than you. Still, like you say being an adoptive parent is accepting whatever adoptive issues that come our way. I think parenting is about accepting whatever issues come and if we chose a certain course, like adoption, opening ourselves up to the issues that come with that. And if we can't do that, we should choose those courses.

mommy24treasures said...

boy do I agree with this post! I don't know if I ahve ever heard anyone post about it, I, being an adoptee as well as an adoptive parent, am so saddened when I see adoptive parents want to ignore the elephant...

wonderful post.

Annie said...

Hey TM. I couldn't believe what happened with Lizzie just yesterday after watching her brother's baby video and then watching her "China" video. I am working through it in my mind and will certainly write post about it but it was the first time I have seen real grieving from Lizzie about China. Knocked me for a loop and I have read so much. It still broke my heart!!!

Annie said...

Hey TM. I couldn't believe what happened with Lizzie just yesterday after watching her brother's baby video and then watching her "China" video. I am working through it in my mind and will certainly write post about it but it was the first time I have seen real grieving from Lizzie about China. Knocked me for a loop and I have read so much. It still broke my heart!!!

Janet said...

I still feel like we're working on that one....we read books, we talk, we listen to music, we have art and pictures of Africa....we talk adoption, we ....well, honestly, I have no clue if we're doing anything right half the time. All I know is I love them.

Kohana said...

#4 in the series really brought it home! You are so right - a mother knows. People can argue it a million different ways, but a mother knows. It might take time to process and a lifetime to learn what to do with it, but once our eyes are open, how can we do anything but work our hardest to make things right?

anymommy said...

I don't have anything to add except that I very much appreciated this series. I appreciate your generosity in sharing your thoughts and your path. It was a gentle, kind way of laying out these issues and I admire you talent for parenting a grieving child and for talking about it.