Exploring Adoption, and Adoption through Foster Parenting

Family is like a box of chocolates

It’s Thanksgiving week and almost the end of November, National Adoption Month, so I wanted to share a very personal post.  In truth, it has only a little to do with adoption, but much to do with giving thanks for family.

I have only very recently reconnected with family members… cousins on both sides of the family and an uncle who were “lost” due to factors, some within, and others totally beyond my control.

Over the years, in spite of the fact that we were out of touch, I thought of them often.  But it was only in reconnecting that I truly realized how much I missed them and how our shared history and memories enriched my life.  I regret those “missing years.”

Yesterday, I was thrilled to get back in touch with two “long-lost” cousins while visiting their father, my uncle, who is terminally ill. My cousin Joan remarked, “so what have you been up to the last 30 years?”

Thirty years? How could it have been that long? How could we, who were once almost as close as sisters, have let life get so in the way of staying in touch? Fortunately, we fell into easy conversation, in spite of the sad reason for our reunion, and we were able to pick up where we left off.  I’m certain we’ll all stay in touch now, certainly via email or facebook… in spite of living more than half the country away from each other.

As I think about Family, I realize it’s a funny thing. Family is like a box of chocolate. Sometimes you love them to pieces. Other times, a little goes a long way.  But even the ones that are a little nuts sweeten your life.

So this week on Thursday, I will be giving thanks for family. I will give thanks for my wonderful husband and two amazing daughters who wouldn’t be family without the institutions of marriage and adoption. I give thanks for friends who are like family and family who are friends. And I will give thanks for finding lost treasures.

What will you give thanks for?

I wish you and yours a joyous Thanksgiving filled with all the blessings you hold dear.

Memories of Adoption Eve

You don't have to love every part of the job to be a good parent

Eleven years ago next Monday, we became a family.  We celebrate the birth of our family, much in the way others celebrate birthdays  , and we call it “Family Day.”  Generally, we choose something special to do together on this day.  When we lived in New York, we often went to Rye Playland.  Here in Rochester, we’ve gone to the National Museum of Play, Seabreeze and the Seneca Park Zoo.  Last year, we spent the day running between rain drops to collect sea shells with our friends Annette and Ted, on the beach in Naples, Florida.  That’s a Family Day we’ll all always treasure.

To commemorate the day, I thought I’d take you with me to the night before my twin daughters came into our family.  Amazing that it feels like only yesterday.

We had arrived in Guangzhou, China and were staying in the beautiful White Swan Hotel, a very different experience from the hotel we were at in Beijing where faulty air conditioning didn’t insulate us against the 100° temperatures outside and left a huge spreading puddle on the rug that we stepped in each time we entered or left the room.

At the five star White Swan Hotel, there was a young woman stationed at the elevator to guide you to your room each time you stepped off the elevator.  A stream accented by a waterfall flowed through the middle of the hotel lobby, exotic birds serenaded you from cages in the upstairs lounge, and the breakfast buffet was fit for Kublai Khan.

We had arrived from Beijing that day, still a bit jet lagged and we’d done a bit of sightseeing, so  I should have been tired.  Instead of tumbling asleep to dream of Adoption Day taking place the next morning, I lay awake worrying far into the night, long after my husband snored softly from the adjacent twin bed (yes, even in a five star hotel, twin beds were the norm).

Was I worrying about the health of my daughters or about how long it would take them to bond with us?  Or worrying about the leap of faith we’d taken, adopting twins that had probably been premature? Was I worrying that they’d only heard Chinese for the first nine months of their lives or that we would look so different, we’d seem like aliens to them?

No…I worried that I wouldn’t be a good enough mother.

I worried that I was too selfish, too set in my ways…that I’d be reluctant to give up the many things I’d enjoyed doing as a single woman and then as a couple – the dancing and travel, the shopping, movies and plays, friends and adventures.   I lay there, silent tears streaming as I envisioned the “me” I knew slipping away, drowning in diapers and bottles, nursery rhymes and strained peas, nursery school and PTA.  I worried that my career would suffer and that I’d be seen as less capable.  I worried that I, as I knew myself, would disappear… dissolving into my new identity as “mother of twins.”

At last my fears were absorbed into the night, I fell asleep and the gritty-eyed dawn arrived.  Our group of four families boarded a bus and headed happily off to a governmental building to meet our long-awaited children.

And in that one day, all of my fears came true, at the same time as they never materialized at all.

How do I explain it?

For a time, I did become engulfed in feedings, ear aches, diaper changes, nursery rhymes and alphabets.  But the odd thing is, they enriched  rather than eroded who I was…who I’ve become.  Did my career change?  Yes, but not because of my daughters, but by economic circumstances and choices I’ve made, both good and bad. Yes, there were times when I’ve wished I could put my husband and daughters in bell jars set high on shelves where they’d be safe and time wouldn’t pass so that I could go off and be “my old self.”  There are still days when I think that if I have to do one more load of laundry, prepare one more meal, make one more grocery shopping trip, I’ll turn in my badge.

I’ve since discovered that’s what “girlfriend getaways” are for…a chance to renew and reinvigorate.  The most important thing  I’ve realized is you don’t have to love every part of the job to be a good parent.  And you don’t have to let go of who you are…. The parts of yourself you treasure most can be shared with your child, enriching and blossoming in both of your lives.

In this segment of Family, by Choice, Veronica Black of Children Awaiting Parents who is an Adoptive Parent via Foster Care and Joanne James-Scott, a Foster Mother, discuss the issues as well as the challenges and rewards of foster care and foster care to adoption.

Monday, one of my daughters went into the hospital for minor surgery, as an outpatient.   We were home four hours later and thankfully, the surgery went smoothly.

By now, I’m a  reluctant veteran of waiting rooms and hospitals on my daughters’ behalves. There have been four sets of ear tubes, two endoscopies, one set of collarbone fracture X-rays, and one harrowing four-day hospital stay that I don’t even want to think about.

As I sat there waiting for the doctor to take me back to the recovery room to be with my daughter, I reflected on parenthood and the unexpected emotions and realities it brings.

When I was without children, time seemed to pass more slowly… I had fewer physical and temporal reminders of time’s passage.  Yes, there were holidays, but there were no quarterly report cards or picture days, there were no outgrown shoes and clothing to replace or regularly-scheduled dental appointments, band concerts or intramural practices to attend. Time did not swirl with the same crazy intensity.

When I was without children, I was invincible, or at least could pretend to be so.  My daughters are my Achilles heel…their physical or emotional suffering pains me far more deeply than my own.

I am also at my strongest. I swallow fears and tears to give my children strength.  I become part lioness, part super hero, to keep their world safe and happy.

As a parent, I push to become my best self…trying to love, protect, encourage and inspire them…trying to be someone they want to look up to and emulate.

Such is the role of parents since the dawn of time.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We adopted our daughters from China when they were 9 1/2 months old. For the first three days, they had a heartbreakingly forlorn look on their faces.   I can only imagine what they experienced. I’ve often thought that for children  being adopted internationally, the encounter and adjustment period must feel like being kidnapped by aliens.  My husband and I didn’t look, smell or sound the same as the people our daughters were used to in China. We didn’t even eat the same foods.

As I think about it,  I’m sure most adopted and foster children must feel similarly.  Even when a child goes to a family that is not trans-cultural or trans-racial, the mere fact of being swept away from all that is familiar must be terrifying.

Why do I mention this? Only to encourage families whose child is not bonding or is having difficulty adjusting to take heart.  No matter how vehemently adoption professionals warn about the adjustment period, I think most parents hope deep down that there will be an instant “spark” and that the child will simply “take” to them.  It seldom happens that way. But your child will adapt and bond to you.  Sometimes it just takes longer than expected.

My daughters are Asian and my husband and I are Caucasian.  On a number of occasions, people have asked inappropriate questions or made comments that caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end.  I’m sure most multi-racial families can relate to this experience.

How to respond?

I’ve realized over the years that, even when the comments or questions seem inappropriate or insensitive, most people don’t intend them that way.  Most are simply trying to engage you and to make a connection, often to share information. Maybe they want to share that they have adult adopted children, that a friend or relative just adopted from a particular country, or that they are waiting to adopt.  Sometimes they ask out of a genuine desire to understand another culture. Often what starts out as an uncomfortable encounter becomes a rich interaction.

A good response to a question or comment that feels intrusive is, “Why do you ask?” or “Why do you say that?” …said with a smile.

Many of the truly awkward inquiries we’ve had are based on inaccurate information. We use them as an opportunity to share insights, trying always to have a positive interaction, as ambassadors of adoption and of multi-racial families.

If you’ve ever run into this situation, how have you handled it? Do you agree with this advice? What are your thoughts?

In Part 2 on Domestic and International Adoption, the Hoh Family share how they discuss adoption in their family, how they stay in touch with David’s Peruvian heritage and they talk about cleft palate surgery.

Exploring Domestic and International Adoption, Part 2 from CAROL WHITE LLEWELLYN on Vimeo.


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