Creating connections with Adoption Choices families

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Love and Being Real

sleepA few weeks ago, an inquisitive first grader, with adorable crazy curls, wearing a tousled outfit (reminds me of myself at that age) walks into her kitchen during Daisy Scouts, and overhears me talking to her mom about our family. The Inquisitive first grader then asks me what adopted means. “We’re an adoptive family; I’m her adoptive mom, or everyday mom. She also has a birth mom who gave birth to her.”  I explain a bit more about adoption and how it is for our family, then she announces “that’s sad” and says “who’s her real mom?” I of course laugh it off, and tell the now slightly bothersome, yet still adorable, first grader that neither of us is imaginary, that we are both real moms. Then she avoids my eyes, spying some cookies up on a high shelf, asks her mom for some, and heads back to the scout meeting. Her mom and I gave each other that, “Yup, that’s first graders for you” look and moved on with our conversation.

I rather enjoyed my conversation with the inquisitive first grader, she’s a kid I really like, and I appreciate her frankness. I am also amused that we made it all the way to first grade before anyone asked about my oldest daughter’s “real” mom. We are lucky to live in a pretty progressive place, in an enlightened age, and to have many different family make-ups in our daughter’s school, in our community, and in our church. We have always felt welcome and accepted in our community, and most importantly felt like a “real” family.

With all that said, we do still work on keeping appropriate adoption speak and realistic images of adoption present in our life, most in particular in our girls school. This week, my oldest daughter will be sharing a book with her class, which she and I made, about her adoption story. My husband and I will join her in class to help with the presentation, and to guide, or deflect, any conversation or questions her classmates may have. We will also be bringing in a few of our favorite picture books about adoption for the class to borrow, and some photographs of our family, including some of our daughter’s birth family to share with the kids. Hopefully our story will teach the kids how real bookswe all are, and that the most important thing about our adoption is how real the love is that our daughter has from all her parents.

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Must Read Books for Your Toddler

My husband and I have been talking about how wonderful adoption is since we brought our son home with us from Korea. Now that he is 3, we intentionally talk to him about adoption more often and give him more depth to our own story about how we became a forever family.  I finally completed his life book, after agonizing over every word and picture, and presented it to him like it was the holy grail.  I must say I am pretty proud of it, but I must also admit that he loves several other adoption stories I’ve gotten for him just as much.

Horace by Holly Keller is a wonderful story that we’ve been reading since he was 2 about a leopard adopted by tigers.   Another one that we started reading then is A Mother for Choco, by Keiko Kasza, and it is my all-time favorite. Choco is a little bird who needs a mommy and goes to Mrs. Walrus, Mrs. Penguin, and Mrs. Giraffe to see if one of them could be his mommy. He thinks that because he doesn’t look like them, they can’t be his mommy. He then meets Mrs. Bear, who just happens to do everything he needs a mommy for (hugs, kisses, dancing, etc).  You can guess where it goes.  The illustrations are the cutest I have ever seen, and I think it’s about the best you can get for a toddler who might be from a different ethnic or cultural background.

Books that we have moved on to recently are The Family Book by Todd Parr, I Wished for You by Marianne Richmond, and Over the Moon by Karen Katz.  Before I got these I did a ton of research on Amazon to make sure these books had the right messages and language.  What I learned is that there is no book that has the perfect language and story, except for the life book you create for your own child.  I would read lots of glowing reviews, then all of a sudden I would see reviews from readers quite offended by something in the story. I used some of these reviews to edit my selection, but soon I realized that I shouldn’t set perfection as the bar.  These books are all great in that they celebrate the love and joy of families created by adoption, and that was really what I was after for my son at this stage.

The Family Book, A Mother for Choco, and Horace are also good options for helping toddlers from non-adoptive families understand adoption.  I plan to get these for the young children of our relatives and close friends so that Maximus’ inner circle has the same context and understanding of adoption that he does.

I have also started to look for books that will celebrate my son’s Korean heritage. I stumbled across the perfect one, called Bee-Bim Bop, by Linda Sue Park. It’s about a family preparing for a festive meal of bee-bim bop, a traditional Korean dish.  It’s got catchy rhyming, cute illustrations of the food, and makes the meal preparation fun and participatory for the toddler from start to finish.

I had some paralysis every time I sat down to work on my son’s life book because I was so afraid I wouldn’t get every single word right. Reading some of these children’s books on adoption really helped because they gave me alternate ways to explain the major concepts – birthmother & father, why they made an adoption plan, who his foster family was, etc. And seeing him just enjoy the books, instead of agonizing over every word like I was, made me realize that at this age, my attitude is more important than the specific language.

Happy Reading!

Love and Regret

A few weeks ago we had a wonderful visit from my youngest daughter’s birthmom, her husband, and their 3-month-old daughter. My daughter’s birthmom’s youngest daughter, is also my youngest daughter’s half-birth sister, however we just call her, Baby Sister, to make life simpler.  We were all under one roof for three days, and our house was full of the love and happiness of two moms, two dads, two big sisters and one baby sister. For the kids, our visits are full of visits to the park, dinners out and in, school visits, bedtime stories, and being tucked in by everyone my kids love at night. For the mama, mommy, dada, and daddy, our visits are time to reconnect, to continue getting to know each other, and of course to snuggle beautiful, sweet, lil baby sister.

The foundation of my relationship with my youngest daughter’s bithmom is built from hefty stones of regret, pain, loss, hopelessness, and grief. We both carry these stones, putting them down, and having a seat on them once in a while to talk about how heavy they are, how much they make our back break, and how they can make our soul wince with pain. However dense these stones are, they seem weightless as pumice when we see our daughter happy, or jumping for joy as she introduces her birthmom to her teachers and classmates at school, or when she cuddles her newborn sister and gives her kisses.

We put down our stones in strange places; in the baby section of Target, or driving on our way to pick up our daughter from school, or in the Deli line at the supermarket. However, we put them down, and we talk. Which I think is one of the most important parts of our Open Adoption.

We talked about how family can let you down. We talked about how someone whom you would have never met, if it wasn’t for life changing circumstances of making an adoption plan for your child, can become one of your greatest allies; an “Auntie” to your youngest daughter, and a mother to your oldest. Mostly, we talked about regret. The great big “What If’s” that sometimes haunt us both. We talk honestly, plainly, and with endearment for the hopelessness of wishing to change the past.

Reflecting on our visit, and our talks, has led me to revisit a book I read a few years ago called, Lifegivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience in Open Adoption by James L. Gritter.  I have chosen to reread this book as my next Adoption Reading Challenge selection. I am particularly interested in the chapters on grief and regret, and I am hoping giving this book another read-through will help me to understand more of my youngest daughter’s birthmom’s experience in our Open Adoption relationship.

Love and Reading part III

I’ve completed two books this month in the Adoption Reading Challenge, and I’m currently searching for my third. Upon completion (finally!) of Jaiya John’s memoir, Black Baby, White Hands: A View From The Crib, I came away with many conflicting feelings. However, I am glad I read it, and feel I have many takeaways from it. As I read Jaiya’s words, I felt as if a friend was telling me stories of his life, a little bit at a time, rewinding over the very good, and really bad parts, to make a statement, and to gain my understanding.  I do not think this book is for everyone. Jaiya is a poet, and he writes like one.  If you are looking for a concise book on the feelings of people who are transracial adoptees, this is not your book. However, if you are looking to understand the depth of the soul of one man, and his journey through life as a transracial adoptee, or to challenge your thoughts on what to means for a black child, to  grow to become black man in a white family, then this book should be a must read. Black Baby, White Hands is not an easy read, it’s musical like Jazz, and it’s painful, like a sunburn, but it’s worth the time for the insight that is gained.

I jumped right from Black Baby, White Hands, into another memoir written by an adoptee. The Mistress’s Daughter, written by A.M. Homes, tells the story of the author’s reunion with her birth parents in her thirty’s.  I cheated a bit on this Adoption Reading Challenge, as I actually listened to the book on Audible.com. It is narrated by Jane Adams, who I had to often remind myself, was not the author, as she narrated the memoir so genuinely. I felt as if Ms. Homes wrote like a journalist while telling the story of her reunion with her birth mother, Ellen, and her birth father, Norman. Her writing is to the point, pragmatic, and almost devoid of feeling. However, the stories Homes tells are both touching, and revealing, about the void that is filled by knowing where one comes from.

Homes takes the reader on a journey through the everyday nitty gritty of living in a once closed, and now open adoption. Homes also explores her own fantasies of her birth parents and her adoption. Even after the reunion, the continued not-knowing in the story drives the author to genealogy, to look for a connection to her families and her place in them. Reading/Listening to Homes’ memoir has confirmed for me that having an open adoption, no matter how it plays out in the future, at least provides a door for my children to walk through on their path towards discovering who they are, and who their birth families are. Knowing who we are seems such a basic right, that I am often perplexed by the stories of hidden truths, or falsehoods by omission, about children who joined their family through adoption. Although the truth is sometimes hard to swallow, sometimes hurtful, sometimes scary, I think untruths’ can create deep wounds that are hard to heal. Again, I pray that I am on the right path for my girls. I pray that they truth will heal them and make them whole.

Adoption Nation

Cover of "Adoption Nation: How the Adopti...

Cover via Amazon

Back in March of 1998, my husband and I were eagerly and anxiously awaiting the arrival of baby K.  It was also in March of ‘98 that The Boston Globe published Adam Pertman’s ground breaking series about adoption.  Pertman’s writing exposed some of the myths surrounding adoption and resulted in a Pulitzer Prize nomination.  As a hopeful soon-to-be adoptive mom, I was devouring anything adoption related and found his series to be a treasure trove of information.

Several years later, my husband and I were busy parenting K, and adoption was no longer the first thing on my mind.  Life was consumed with struggling to get out the door on-time for pre-school, getting shoes on the right feet, and keeping K out of our bed and in her own.   When I received an invitation to hear Adam Pertman speak about his new book Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming America, I wasn’t sure I had the energy for a grown up evening but decided to give it a try.  His talk was a riveting combination of his professional research and his personal experience.  Pertman and his wife Judy’s adoption of their two children had been part of his impetus for the Globe series.  My signed copy of Adoption Nation became a great addition to my adoption library.

Pertman left the Globe and became the Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute (www.adoptioninstitute.org), a non-profit dedicated to improving adoption policy and practices through research, education, and advocacy.   He become a leading expert in the field of adoption, writing commentary, delivering keynotes and is widely quoted in the media.

Since the publication of Adoption Nation in 2000, much has changed in the adoption landscape.  As a result, Adam has written a revised and updated edition titled:  Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming our Families — and America.  I look forward to reading this edition, which will available in April.  You can hear Pertman read portions of it, at a book signing on Tuesday, April 5 from 6 to 8pm at The Inn at Harvard, 1201 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA.  Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served.  His presentation, reading and Q&A begin at 7 pm.  RSVP is requested to mleonard@adoptioninstitute.org.  It’s sure to be a great and educational evening.

Love and Reading Part II

Life has gotten in the way of my Adoption Reading Challenge this month. Although, I have read 179 out of 350 pages of Jaiya John’s memoir, Black Baby White Hands: A View From the Crib, I have failed to complete it. I tried to overcome the obstacle of reading while in a darkened hospital room, watching a  sick relative sleep, by bringing along a book light, but those places are so jacked full of oxygen and warm air, I’d fall asleep 50 words in.  Then, I tried to read last week while my husband was away on business, my babysitter was on spring break, and both my girls were home with the flu, but apparently when the girls watch Caillou for the 70th time in a day, I am meant to watch along. 

Life; it sucked the life out of me, and my reading mojo. So, I am breaking up my response to reading Black Baby, White Hands into two parts. Honestly, I could break my thoughts about this young man’s journey, up into a hundred parts. This book is chock-full of thought provoking poetry, mind-rattling storytelling, and such raw and honest self reflection that, I had to re-read several parts, to gain the full meaning of Jaiya John’s words.

Jaiya John’s book retells his story of being an African American child adopted by a white family, with powerful images, and unforgettable pain and insight into himself, his family, his community, and the historical impact that race in America, had on his soul. Jaiya John was placed for adoption by his mother, Mary, at birth in the late 1960’s. Jaiya spent most of his first year of life in a foster family and then was adopted by the Potters, a white, middle class family from Los Alamos, New Mexico. Jaiya John was the first transracial adoptee in New Mexico.

Jaiya’s description of his feelings towards the social workers that worked with his mother during his placement into foster care stung my heart. Jaiya described the services provided by the social workers as having “built a wall of shrunken possibilities” (John, p. 17). This description of social workers in the late sixties offering no supports other than placement into foster care, and eventually adoption, made me want to reach my arms back in time to embrace his mother. Equally as powerful are Jaiya’s thoughts about his father’s role (or lack thereof) in his placement into foster care; “the first step in being a father is to be informed that you are one” (John, p. 17). This part of Jaiya’s journey, made me reflect on my own girls adoptions. Did their birth mother’s feel a “wall of shrunken possibilities” surrounded them? If so, did I help lay the bricks for that wall? Did our greater community and individualistic society lay those bricks? Or did my girls’ birthmothers feel they had pathways of hope? Hope for themselves, for their child, for the future? I don’t know the answers to these questions, nor do I know how to ask them.

The love that obviously flows from Jaiya’s parents, siblings, and extended family is poignant, but just not enough to heal his soul.  Jaiya repeatedly explores his feelings of loneliness, isolation, otherness, and not being “seen” by those around him. The issue of low self-esteem also reoccurs in Jaiya’s description of his childhood, despite his loving family and his excellence in his education, social circle, and in athletics, he yearns for confirmation of himself as an African American. Jaiya’s words describing how he himself and his brother (also an African American child) are perceived by their family, friends and greater community also hit home for me.

               “That we should feel lucky to be growing up in such a wonderful town, in such a loving family.They took for granted the thing most lacking but equally important to our true happiness: Seeing our face looking back at us. Most of these people had the comfort of being White in a White community.  (John, P. 10)”

When I comb my daughter’s curly brown hair, and we stare at each other in the mirror, I both love and despise when she says to me, “we are the same, our eyes are the same, we both have green eyes.”  We don’t, her eyes are certainly brown, and my eyes are for certain green.  I feel that yearning for connection emanating from her soul and pray that I can be enough for her, that I know more, and have more resources than Jaiya’s family did. But what mark will remain on my daughter’s soul from being a bi-racial child being raised by a white mama?  Will the open adoptions help with my daughters’ connectivity to their birth cultures? Will our diverse community be reflection enough for their hearts? I am doing the very best that I can, as I am sure Jaiya’s family did, but will it be enough? I pray.

Love and Reading

When my husband and I first started on our parenting and adoption journey, I read just about anything I could get my hands on regarding adoption and parenting in general. I have a huge library of books, articles, and magazine stockpiled around my house. I have read many of them, but some just sit and gather dust as I wait to get my reading mojo back. I think I may have over-dosed on non-fiction in the first years of parenting. I have been reading lots of great non-fiction over the last year, including The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow, and The English American by Allison Larkin, both which have adoption themes. However, I feel the need to ramp-up my adoptive mom thinking.  So, in an effort to really challenge myself to read more this year, I have joined the Adoption Reading Challenge over at The Chronicles of Munchkinland blog.

The first book I am reading is Black Baby, White Hands: A View from the Crib by Jaiya Johns

I read a bit of this book few years ago, but it was pretty heavy stuff for a newbie adoptive mom, who was a beginner at parenting transracially, and who was trying to convince herself that everything was going to be just fine. A few years have passed, and I feel I’m ready to really look at this book and see how this young man’s story of being adopted by a white family in the 1960’s, resonates with me. Next month I’ll post my thoughts on this book and my choice for my second book in the challenge. The Adoption Reading Challenge is open to anyone interested in reading books with an adoption theme. Wish me luck and feel free to join in!

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