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Posts Tagged ‘transracial’

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Closure is a captivating and quick-paced documentary about a young woman (the sparkling Angela Tucker AKA @angeieadoptee) who seeks and finds members of her birthfamily.

>> Filmmaker Bryan Tucker  is looking donations via KickStarter to help get Closure onto Netflix, Hulu and iTunes. (You can donate as little as $1 to help them.) <<

Like Somewhere Between, the documentary stands on its own as a thrilling and difficult journey full of revelations and discoveries, heartbreak, sadness and joy. For adoptees, birthmothers and adoptive families, of course, it has a deeper resonance.

It’s almost a ritual now for my husband and me to watch an adoption movie, cry immediately and then settle into the film, which is what we did for this one.

Right off the bat, as an adoptive mother, I was bowled over by Angela’s parents, who had one biological child in the 70s afterwhich the father promptly got a vasectomy and they adopted seven more children, all with some form of special needs.

The parents embody a kind of big love and down-to-earth attitude that rubbed off on their children. Interestingly, despite having so many kids, the mother still had a hard time figuring out (at the beginning) why Angela wanted to find her birthfamily (wasn’t she enough?). She quickly gets totally onboard; however; and the meat of the film kicks off.

I don’t want to give too much away because the surprises and details are too wonderful to reveal but Angela does meet various members of her family and once again, I learned a few things about adoption:

1) Birthfathers matter:  This doesn’t mean they necessarily make great parents but as a frequently missing part of the equation, their contribution to DNA and temperament can be significant. In the case of Angela, it’s clear that her biological father was a major contributor to her light-up-a-room personality as well as her physical appearance. Not that birthfathers are just about DNA but some of the similarities were striking.

2) An adoptee’s search for roots has nothing to do with the love they feel for their adoptive family. Loving your adoptive parents does not negate the need for answers, connections and love from your biological family. Those two seemingly disparate states can coexist.

3) Closed adoption leaves a trail of broken hearts. This isn’t news really but it was poignantly illustrated in the doc. The big downside of Angela’s adoption was secrecy, which  had serious repercussions on the birthmother in particular, who never even held her daughter and suffered severe lifelong depression. Obviously, for Angela, it meant a lifetime of wondering where she came from. It also resulted in lost culture, and lost relationships with birthaunties and uncles, and half-siblings. Loss even affected her first foster mother who never knew what happened to her after she was taken from their care to be adopted.

4) Sometimes adoption is the right choice. In the film, many family members talked about how they might have raised Angela including a foster mother but they all agreed in their own way and time that she had thrived in her adoptive family and that it was the right choice. By thrived, I mean this was a child that doctors said would never walk who turned out to be a phenomenal basketball player an effortless piano player and went on to get a social work degree.

5) Even when biological families are broken, reunion is still worthwhile. Angela’s birthfamily had some problems but they are warm, heart-on-the-sleeve people who were surprised, moved and thrilled to meet her. For Angela, none of that mattered: they were family.

Angela’s husband Bryan Tucker, who made the film, pieced together a complicated story  so that it moves quickly but slows down where needed to tell a truly moving and important story.

Donate any amount (over $1) to their Kickstarter campaign so they can get this wonderful doc screened and  shown!

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Here are some of my October learnings as inspired by www.strocel.com

I can go away for a week, and the world will continue to rotate. My first vacation sans enfant to Ontario went smoothly for me and on the home front thanks to several sleep-overs at Lolo’s. Apparently, Theo asked for me several times a day. When I got home, he kind of shoulder shrugged, and we went about our day.

Took my mom to a fancy spa for her 75th with my sister-in-law.

It pays to have another Halloween costume in the tickle trunk. Theo rejected his Buzz Lightyear costume at the last minute: “No Buzz! No Buzz!” Mark’s sister pulled out a cozy dragon costume and he was ready to yell “TRICK OR TREAT!” randomly in the street.

No Buzz!

Toddlers want to be involved in everything. Theo participated in prepping the pumpkin for Halloween, and made his own cappuccino this morning (ok – sort of).

"Making" coffee

Naps have their upsides and downsides. We’ve entered the random nap stage. Some days Theo “fails to nap,” which means the 5 to 7 pm portion of the day spirals quickly into disaster but he’s flat out by 7 and down for 11 to 12 hours. If he naps two hours during the day, he wakes up in a fantastic mood but goes to bed after 9 pm.

Apres nap euphoria.

I can run a 10K but won’t attempt a half marathon anytime soon. I completed my 10K Diva Run in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and found it extremely taxing. I feel no compunction to do it again although I can run for 45 minutes pretty easily now.

The Eastside Fitness team: I'm the one with my eyes closed at the back.

Staying away from adoption politics and controversies is best for my family: There are some deep and complex issues surrounding local and international adoption. In the interests of my family, I’m focussing on our own relationships, which means I’m not commenting on adoption themes in TV dramas, signing petitions or engaging with bloggers or tweeters looking for a tussle. I feel better already.

What did you learn last month? Any stunning revelations?

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I’ve heard people adopting transracially jokingly say, “Oh we’re not going to tell him he was adopted.” It’s a ha ha moment because the assumption is that children who look radically different from their parents will always know they were adopted. We who adopt transracially can’t pretend our children were born to us. We need to tell our children before someone else points it out. Nowadays, even if you are the same culture as your children or have a similar look, no one pretends their adopted children was born to them. The secrecy inherent in past adoptions was incredibly damaging to birthparents and adoptees. Adoption is out of the closet – something to be acknowledged and embraced.

However, as depicted in Kung Fu Panda, it’s not true that kids adopted cross-racially automatically know they were adopted. Kids see their parents as the people who care for them everyday whether you all look alike or not. No matter what your children look like, or where they came from, if they were infants when they joined their families, there is a period where they genuinely do not know they were adopted.

Father

and son.

Theo, now 26 months old,  joined our family at birth. We have an open adoption where we see his birthparents regularly. However, he is only two and just beginning to talk. Thus far, I think he sees his birthparents as fun, nice people that we visit from time to time. He still does not have the words or the cognitive ability to process what adoption means and who these important people actually are in the scheme of his life. He also may not see that our looking different from each other is something unusual. It’s his norm, and we spend significant time with other transracial adoptive families or cross cultural families.

What’s surprising is how difficult it is for me to start introducing him to his lifestory. I’ve stalled out, lapsed into a reverie of regular family life. And while I used to tell him all the details of his adoption at night before he went to sleep, he couldn’t understand what I was saying and soon getting him to sleep took priority.

He’s on the cusp of grasping his history, and  I don’t want to wait until he starts asking questions. I need to come up with a simple narrative that he can understand. Modern technology makes this venture very easy. We can create a photobook with pictures of him at the hospital, photos of his birthfamily and us, and go from there. But modern technology can’t take away a nagging feeling that we are taking away a piece of his innocence.

How and when did you introduce adoption to your child(ren). When do you think they really understood what that means? And how did they react?

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Standing out in a crowd

It’s easy to get caught up in a “default to irate” mindset when you stand out as a transracial adoptive family: the looks, the comments, the fact that on a crowded playground no one can immediately identify me as my son’s mother, that people insist on asking where my son is really from when I say he was born here, that it’s fair game to run their hands through his hair.

Outstanding I say!

We do stand out but we’re not the only people who face invasive questions. My friend is a tall, lean, angular woman with a long nose, almond eyes, and the olive skin of her Iraqi roots. Her husband, a tall, stockier WASP, managed to send all of his features along to his daughters. The result is a pair of identical twin girls with blond ringlets, large blue eyes and pale skin. Their mother says that people stop, look at her and speak very slowly so she can understand them as they assume she is the nanny. And then comes the “double trouble” comments (guilty as charged!), the “Who is older” remarks, and so it goes.

The other day, I met a woman with three sons and all I could think was “triple trouble!” But I stopped myself and said the equally obvious “Three boys! Wow. You must have your hands full.” I bet no one’s every said that to her before.

Non-caucasians are routinely asked where they are really from.  Family and friends frequently ask single women why they are still single given they are such a good catch. Couples with no children are asked when they’re going to have a baby, a question that is annoying to those who don’t want children and exceptionally painful to those that do. Parents with one child are asked when they’ll have another.

None of us is immune from these prying questions, and defaulting to irate only makes me feel worse. The more confident and comfortable I am being part of a conspicuous family, the less likely I am to take offence. So when the two mothers at the beach asked if I had any idea “who this child’s mother was” pointing at Theo, I said. “I am,” and grinned enjoying their befuddled looks.

I’m no saint and suffer from frequent rant attacks when I’m blindsided and rarely offer information unless it fits the context. I can’t control the questions but I can control the way I answer them.

How do you handle invasive questions? Are you a hot-head? Do you swallow it? Do you walk away in a huff? Or are you all Buddha-like?

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Only you

Our little family


Just like people who have children by birth, we’re often asked if we’re going to adopt again, or  “if we’re going to have another one.” I’ve even been asked if Theo is “our first,” which always makes me chuckle. Much as I love the idea of siblings, a posse of fun-loving children playing merrily together (ha ha), we won’t be adopting again.

Things would be different if we were in our 20s or early 30s but we’re, er hem, a bit older than that. And we don’t have the luxury of getting pregnant or planning our “baby spacing.”

Adoption is a long, complex and deeply emotional process, something I really don’t want to go through again. And we were lucky. Our adoption unfolded in a fairytale-like manner. Seemingly out of the blue, we were selected by a young couple (and their parents) to become the adoptive parents of their soon-to-be-born little boy in a local, open adoption. Everything went swimmingly and quickly, and before we knew it, we had a beautiful baby boy in our lives. Eighteen months later, he is ridiculously healthy (has never actually been sick outside of a cold) and blessed with (IMHO) a winning personality (biting notwithstanding).

I can’t imagine such stunning outcome a second time round. To throw our hearts in the ring again only to be shut down or wait five years is a risk I’m not willing to take.

And then there’s the openness conundrum. We have a very open adoption with Theo’s extended birthfamily, something that is unlikely to happen a second time around. Our relationship with Theo’s birthfamily is emotionally complex and involves a lot of relatives. What if we adopt a child in a closed or semi-open adoption where contact is limited? How will this child feel when their brother has this madcap family around the corner, which they are now a part of?  How would we manage this dichotomy? Conversely, what if child number two also had a large birthfamily living close by, how would we manage two complex open adoption relationships and still have time to be a family?

Do I worry about him being an “only child?” Of course. I worry that he’ll be lonely or want a sister or brother. He’s very friendly and active. He loves a party, and I can see how siblings could be good for him. But the addition of one sister or a brother who may be nothing like him is no guarantee of future happiness.

As it stands, we live in the city where space is tight but friends and family live close by so we have lots of small children available to play at a moment’s notice. We anticipate new cousins will arrive in the next couple of years, and I imagine there will be birth siblings in the future as well. He won’t be lonely. For now, we want to ensure that our bond as a family is strong and that we are as close as possible before he goes out into the world of pre-school, blastball, soccer and drumming.

But the biggest reason we won’t adopt again is because the way Theo came into our lives felt so right and so fated. We are happy just the three of us. We are a family. We are complete.

How did you (or will you), decide whether to expand you family?

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An adoptee left a comment on my blog indicating that adoptive families would never be nuclear families in the true sense. I get where she’s coming from. Many adult adoptees do not have access to their biological families or even information about them. This leaves a gaping hole in their lives. The ancestry, the lineage, the family trees do not fit for adoptees.

Thankfully, our son has access to his roots. He will be able to trace his biological family lines back for generations. However, he’ll have an additional branch that includes us. It’s almost a reversal. Where will we fit into his family tree?

Adoption has changed. The availability of information has made contact possible between adoptees and biological parents and siblings. Something that would require a detective 40 years ago can be found via Facebook. The typical family has changed. The nuclear family is no longer the norm. Divorce, adoption, globalization, multiculturalism have all changed the face of the family.


No nukes here.

Here are some of the configurations of families in my direct circle of friends:

  • Caucasian mom, Indo-Canadian dad, mixed-race toddler.
  • Filipino mom, Caucasian dad, mixed-race elementary kids
  • Caucasian couple with two daughters adopted locally. Same-race.
  • Parents with a new baby divorced within a year. Both remarried and have other children. The son, now 14 has three “half siblings,” four parents, and four sets of grandparents.
  • Parents with a 6-year-old son divorced. Both remarried. Son now 12, has a same-aged step-sibling and a baby brother on the other side.
  • Chinese-Filipino mom, Caucasian with a baby girl who bears little outward resemblance to mom.
  • Mixed-race lesbian couple with a 4-year-old boy biologically related to one mother and an unnamed father.
  • Single Caucasian mom with a son adopted from Africa
  • Single adoptive mom with 25-year-old daughter born in China.
  • Black and Caucasian couple with black son adopted from the US (open)
  • Indian mom, black father, two girls.
  • Married couple, mid-40s, no kids.
  • Gay male couple with toddler (I don’t know if he was adopted or came via a surrogate)
  • Single woman, 42 living with partner, no kids.
  • Single man, 39, no kids.
  • Divorced dad, 45, with pre-teens lives with same-aged woman. She now has two step-sons who are not biologically related to her.

Of course, I know plenty of same-race, biological families that qualify as nuclear, and they have the comfort of their biological links and less confusing scenarios to manage. I’m not against nuclear families. Yet, everywhere I turn in Vancouver, I see families that don’t fit the accepted nuclear definition. We live in a city that shows off the cultural mashup to its best advantage, a place where difference is the norm, a place that redefines family. And I say hurrah for that.

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1. Adoption is different in person

I worked as an editor of an adoption magazine where I listened to and wrote hundreds of adoption stories: profiles of families with over ten children adopted from around the world, a story of an adoptee who bumped into her birth sibling at a mall for the first time. I attended transracial adoptee panels, attachment workshops and worked closely with adoptive parents and adoptees. I knew everything a person needed to know about adoption before we adopted. But nothing can fully prepare you for the emotional complexity of adoption, the public nature of my family, and the amazing joy and sorrow of being a parent.

2. Adopting cross racially means you are never invisible

When I go out with Theo, we are on display. I can’t walk down the street, go to a party, cruise the mall or hangout at the playground without being stared at or asked questions. I have a few safe zones: friends and family events but for the most part, we are a source of curiosity.  The plus is that we meet a lot of people including adoptive and prospective adoptive parents.

3. You can never fully prepare for comments and questions

Just when you think you have a stock answer at the ready, someone will throw you a curve ball. I’m used to people asking where my son is from but when a woman stopped me the other day and asked if Theo was adopted, and I said yes, she told me I was very pretty and should have children of my own because I’d really enjoy it. I was taken aback by the implicit racism/adoptism wrapped in a back-handed compliment.

4. Talking to children about adoption is harder than talking to adults

I’m still not clear on how to talk about adoption with young children. First of all, they are much blunter than adults so I need to be prepared emotionally. When I am asked a question, such as “Why did you adopt him?” or “Where do his real parents live? “I try to keep things as simple as possible and wait for a second question.

5. Biology does not make a family

A family is headed by one or more caring adults who offer love, support and guidance to their children. I hurts me to see people struggle with infertility and go to extreme lengths to give birth to a child. I get it. Pregnancy and passing on one’s genetic lineage is a natural, biological imperative, and if it works, it’s a lot easier than adopting! The desire to create life exists on a cellular level and the inability to fulfill this biological destiny is exceptionally painful. But I am telling you right here, right now: You do not need to give birth to your own DNA in order to be parents, or be a sibling, or be a family.

6. Biology is important

I am biologically related to my family, and I’m fascinated by our physical, emotional, and temperamental similarities and differences. Occasionally, my father will muse that my niece is a lot like our eccentric great auntie Tissie, and we kids and cousins take great delight in watching my Dad, Robin, and his two brothers discuss at length why my car might not be running smoothly (Well it’s the fan belt of course …  No, no Robin, it can’t be the fan belt and I’ll tell you why …). I’m glad that Theo has a relationship with his biological family on both sides. There will be moments of connection and understanding that can only be realized through biology.

7. Openness is a process

Openness is difficult emotionally, especially at the beginning. It’s hard to claim the mantel of parent when there is an entire family “over there,” who care about my child as much as I do. Logically, this is ridiculous. How can more caring people be bad for a person? How can expanding our family to absorb another be a bad thing? It’s not bad. It just takes time for everyone to come to terms with what it all means, how it’s going to work and what the future looks like.

8. The Internet is transforming adoption

More adoption stories that ever before are being shared, expressed and heard thanks to blogging technology. Newsflash! Birthmothers care about the children they place for adoption. Many adoptees in closed adoption want adoption laws reformed (in the US in particular). Adoptive families come in all shapes, colours and sizes and are sharing their experiences.

9. Adoptive parenting is different than biological parenting

When you’re an adoptive parent, there’s always a lingering thought that if your child misbehaves or is socially inappropriate people will think it’s a result of adoption. I need to constantly educate people about adoption so that my child and my family are treated fairly. This will be doubly true when he hits school and educational units on family arise.

10. Adoptive parenting is no different from biological parenting

We are parents like any other. My husband and I have a wonderful, high-energy toddler who’s hitting all his milestones like any other healthy kid. He also sleeps erratically, has little patience for waiting, likes to climb on the dining room table, loves to hug, clap and blow kisses, and bites other kids when he’s over-stimulated or tired. He’ll eat anything once and spit out food he does not like. He’s a toddler, and we love him.

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