mom, please don't share that on the internet


I know you love me. I know you love me dearly. So dearly. And I love you too.

In fact, you love me so much and were so excited to tell the entire world that you were adopting a toddler. And while the news was received with much excitement, you were surprised when the first few people didn't completely understand why you and dad were adopting and when some friends wondered why you were adopting from my birth country instead of from the States. You were also taken aback when people responded with horror stories about adoption or when folks told you that you were angels for adopting or that I would be the luckiest baby ever. Even the handful who responded by saying that they could never love a child that wasn't really "theirs" were simply trying to respond to the news and didn't know what else to say. I get it. You've heard it all, and that must have been exhausting trying to educate people about adoption.

Your excitement continued as you ventured through the adoption process. Fingerprints, interviews with the adoption social worker who asked you about everything from your monthly expenses to the details of your marital relationship to your tucked away childhood memories... the doctor appointments and the  psychological evaluations and waiting in long lines to have documents state sealed... dashing to the Walgreen's to pick up photos for your dossier and writing long drafts of your autobiography for a social worker to comb over... What a crazy process, and one in which many people do not understand.

In fact, to document your process and to share your excitement, you started a blog. After all, you had read so many blogs of other adoptive parents that you were quite excited to start your own. You put your adoption timeline on the sidebar, added photos of my decorated bedroom, and popped in with posts here and there to let your friends and family know how things were going (or not going... we know adoption takes a long time).

You were that excited for me, and you hadn't even met me.

And, of course upon meeting me, your love for me materialized, and it became "us" instead of "you" and "me".

The photos that were taken of our first moments together and of our first days in that small hotel room--you shared them on your blog, as so many people were waiting to see "us". You described my behaviors and the words that I used and went into great detail about my appearance--the appearance of a girl who had lived in an orphanage for three years. You talked about how blessed you were to be adopting me and about how you were so glad I was finally coming "home". Of course you didn't want to forget a thing and also wanted others to experience and learn about this miraculous thing called adoption, so you typed out every last thought and feeling.

But as you continued to blog and to join adoption Facebook groups, you became more and more comfortable with on-line friendships and support groups. After all, these were your peers who were also adopting or had "been there done that", and some of them became close friends. Who else to ask about where you can get the cheapest plane tickets to my birth country or how to address my hoarding of food or how to handle the tantrums when I was so scared and confused about the new people who looked nothing like me.

And I know that you love me and that you believe in adoption and that you want to get other people on board and more comfortable and excited about the way our family came together... or maybe you want to use my story and my adoption as a way to offer support and encouragement to other adoptive parents. To give hope, to show them that they are not alone, and to let them know that they are normal in their experiences and in their feelings of parenting an adopted child. Because we know that adoptive parents are often in the trenches--plugging along with attachment strains and language challenges and medical needs--and not always very understood by those around them.

But can I ask you one thing?

Please be careful with what you say about me online.

Certainly you've read about the dangers of the internet. That whatever is posted on the virtual highways of the world wide web is there forever. There is no guarantee that the words and photos you have posted of and about me will not be replicated, used in manners that you do not wish, or shared with others with intent different than your own. And someday when I figure out how to google my own name--what will I read about myself?

So when you write about me and my adoption in your excitement and with your pure intentions, please don't share everything. Especially on the internet. And especially when you haven't even shared it with me.

Because remember, oh please remember, I had to lose a whole bunch in order to even become a part of your family. Like, I had to lose my father and my mother and my extended family and my language and the culture of my community and birth country. I had to move to an entirely new country and get on an airplane with complete strangers. I'm not even old enough to understand what all of this means yet, so it doesn't seem fair for Great Aunt Gertrude to know the sensitive and personal details about my birth parents or about my relinquishment before I do. And it doesn't seem fair for your hairdresser and for your Facebook friends to know how old my birthparents are and about their lifestyle choices when I don't yet know.

While it's not a secret that I was adopted, I hope that most of the information will be mine to share. And I also hope that this information isn't stored on the internet forever for just anyone to read.

Can you imagine if I learn from the kids at school (who learned from their parents, your friends) that my first family didn't make enough money to keep me or that my parents didn't know what to do with me so left me on the side of a street? I need to hear this information from you, and when you tell others first, you're running the risk of others telling me before you do.

Or worse, you're running the risk of the story morphing into something simply untrue. You know the game of telephone, right? Everyone loves a good adoption story, and what if the details of my first family and my adoption get so out of hand with it traveling from interested person to interested person that the information isn't accurate anymore? Not to mention that I don't want everyone talking about me, especially since I'm already going to be sticking out in my family and in my community.

My adoptee friends and I started our lives in the wombs of mothers just like everyone else did. Except our lives took sharp turns early on, and usually we came with very little when we joined our new families. Sometimes with just the clothes on our backs and our given names from the orphanages. So the information you were given about us in our referral paperwork or the words that were verbally shared about us from social workers or orphanage staff? Well, that's pretty darn important information to us. Because when you have little to nothing about the first years of your life, everything becomes important.

And again, I recognize that you may be trying to exchange information and experiences about adoption with fellow adoptive parents for good reasons. That you want others to know that you're all in it together with attachment struggles or bonding challenges. That you want new adoptive parents to consider things you had never considered. Or maybe it's that you and your adoptive parent friends are discussing drugs, homelessness, lifestyle choices, or abuse/neglect in the context of our first families and learning from one another how best to share that information with us. But please don't state and discuss those things publicly on the internet. Find a different way to receive and offer support and information without blasting our information publicly on the World Wide Web for all to see. 

You love me, and I know your intent isn't to embarrass me or to paint me as a charity case or as a mere statistic or to showcase me as an example of adoption gone well. Or to make me stick out more than I already do. But sometimes the implications of your sharing on the internet includes all of those things. 

Please think twice before posting that status update, publishing that blog post, or even sharing about my adoption with your Tuesday night book club.

I love you,

Your Daughter

{ to keep up with this conversation and more, find me on Facebook }

Adoption: What I Think & What I Know

Several weeks ago, I met with a fun-loving and sweet 9-year-old to talk about adoption. Oh, and to talk about school, toys, friends, favorite foods, and stuff like that. Because that's just what typical 9-year-olds enjoy. And because my sweet friend was sharing with me a journal of thoughts about adoption, I created something for my friend to read too, and after snapping a photo of it and sharing it on my Facebook page (where I'm writing daily for #NationalAdoptionMonth and #FlipTheScript--"like" / join me there!), several of you asked for a printable version of it. And at long last, here it is.

I made a few small edits, but the gist is the same. At the suggestion of my 9-year-old friend, I made the bulleted statements into numbered statements instead ("Miss Tara, it would be easier to tell you about the ones I agree with if they were numbered..." -- yes, such truth!).

So without further ado, "Adoption: What I Think & What I Know". Clicking on the title of the document or on the image below should link to a printable pdf document.  

And while I wish I could hang out with all of your awesome kids, perhaps you can talk through this document with your child, letting him or her know that an adult adoptee wrote this. Or perhaps it can simply guide some in-home conversations with your child. But I do hope its beneficial and cements the truth that the complexities of adoption can and should be discussed with our children.

Thoughts or other feedback?

on orphan sunday (for those not on Facebook)

For those of you not on Facebook, here is a status I shared on my page today regarding Orphan Sunday.

"Today is "Orphan Sunday", and as we go forward with our own understandings and opinions regarding this day and regarding the vulnerable children and families whom we are recognizing, let us go carefully and humbly, with open hearts and eyes and ears and minds.

May we learn from those who have lost children through injustice and other circumstances, and may we listen to the many who have experienced tough beginnings and who have life stories that are not like most. May we recognize our own privilege and power and fight for those without. May we speak truthfully and factually, recognizing that vulnerable children are never movements or fads or trends. May we learn and process with those who have different perspectives and beliefs regarding care for children and families. May we remember that families, even those that some deem as "less than adequate", have unique and complex histories and are people--REAL PEOPLE--with worth and value. May we not simply see statistics for shock value or as numbers to reduce, but may we instead see individuals to truly know and understand and love. May we be sensitive to those in our midst who see this day as an outward simplification of the real complexity behind families and communities and/or as a day that awakens their own loss and tragedy in losing a child or a parent.

May we understand that sometimes our "helping" is actually hurting. May we work together and may we work individually. May we understand that expressions of compassion come in various forms. May we love and act not to be recognized but because of our own understanding that we all need love and help, and that we're in this together.

Today, may we go forth together with grace, empathy, hope and compassion."

quotable adoption phrases ?

A Google search for "adoption quotes" quickly confirms there are plenty of them floating around. Most appear to affirm and celebrate adoption and the families it creates. Some sanitize the loss and tragedy of relinquishment or abandonment; others compare adoption to pregnancy or indicate that love is enough. Even others put down biological connections in order to justify adoption's goodness and rightness.

The absence of words that describe the complex nature of adoption is noticeable. For in only celebrating adoption, we may be inadvertently dismissing and silencing others' experiences of loss and grief. And furthermore, a picture of adoption is painted that declares adoption as something only wonderful or easy or inspirational.

And that's far from the truth.
And language is powerful.

In scanning the available quotes and words, I found few that I can truly stand behind. I don't believe it's necessary or kind or right to put down genetic connections just to make adoption more okay or respected. Nor do I think platitudes and positive spins give the full truth of what adoption entails, but rather they may actually hinder adoptees in processing the events and feelings of their own lives. And while I do wish adoption, adoptees, adoptive parents, and first/birth parents were better understood, I don't think the existing adoption quotes do us justice.

So at the suggestion of a friend, I've started putting together my own words and have created images of word art about the truths and complexities of adoption. As I joked on my Facebook page, I understand that these quotes won't be the ones found hanging on office or home walls, but they are ones that speak to the truths and complexities that encompass adoption. And if they help change the narrative of adoption to include all views and voices and stories which includes discussing the complex realities, and if they might offer support and perspective to another person in the adoption community, well, then I'm all for getting these words out there.

some day i'll blog again

My husband often reminds me that I haven't blogged in a while. It's not news to me, as I know a few months have passed from writing and hitting "publish".

Since sharing my thoughts on not being an exotic Asian, I've been hitting the pool with my kids, enjoying thoughtful and sometimes downright hilarious conversation with newish and oldish friends, shopping at the Goodwill where I buy gobs of milk glass and children's books and kids' clothing, visiting out-of-state grandparents and friends, schlepping together dinner (every. single. day.), researching washing machines and blenders, substitute teaching at my kids' school, holding my husband's hand, killing fruit flies, teaching Sunday School to 5 and 6 year olds, watching my kids' soccer games, shopping at Costco and Trader Joe's, forgetting to weed the garden, wiping the kitchen countertops again and again and again, and wasting time online. The summer months and these early fall days also brought a busyness and privilege of traveling to speak at some great camps and conferences and schools, answering emails from parents and fellow adoptees, and meeting with parents one-on-one and in larger groups to discuss parenting adopted children.

It's a rich and full and varied life that I'm so thankful to be living. It's a life that keeps me on my toes, encourages learning and relationships, and reminds me of who I am. And soon enough I'll be back to unloading my mind on the blog... but for now, keep up with me on Facebook (where I tend to write the world's longest statuses).


i'm not an exotic asian

I worked as a receptionist at an employment agency the summer before I began college. The agency sat on a busy street, and all day long I would greet a steady stream of individuals who were coming in for scheduled interviews or to pick up information regarding employment opportunities. For an already orderly and organized person like myself, this was the perfect summer job for the 17-year-old me.

One day, I looked through the windowed opening of the reception area and greeted a man who had just walked in. He took a seat in the waiting area and later stood up and walked over to me. Thinking he needed an ink pen or to confirm an appointment, I smiled and asked how I could help him. I think he said hi and then proceeded to say words that I'll never forget.

"You look just like the ladies in my Asian porn magazines... do you model? Is it you in one of my magazines?"

I was 17 years old. A very, very innocent 17 years old.

And I had no idea what had just happened.

I felt sick to my stomach and wondered if I had done something wrong. Instinctively, I walked away from the window. I can't remember exactly what I did next, but I remember looking down at my clothing. I can still remember the light purple turtleneck I was wearing and the long black polyester skirt. Was it my fault he asked me this? Was it something I was wearing?

I remember telling a female manager at the office about what happened. I sat in Sue's office, feeling more embarrassed than anything else, and repeated what the man said to me. I was worried that she would tell our male colleagues and that they'd think I was a trouble-maker or look at me differently. She told me that I did nothing wrong and explained the office's emergency procedures (apparently I could overhead page a specific person's name -- someone who in fact didn't work at the office -- which was code for," I need help. As soon as possible.)

Adoptive parents of Asian girls, this stuff happens. And if you're like those who have heard me briefly talk about this topic at education sessions, you're shocked that this stuff happens. But it does, and it will almost surely happen to your daughter.

And as someone who was blindsided by my experiences and felt terribly embarrassed with no Asian mentor or role model to whom to go, I'm all for getting the word out so that we can prepare our daughters and be their allies. Otherwise, I'd rather not talk about this. It's uncomfortable, and I feel vulnerable just sharing about this. It's left me feeling insecure and yucky (for lack of a better, more academic word) and even at times doubtful about my Asian identity and how I am perceived by others.

This office scenario was unfortunately only the first of many similar instances.

There was that time I left a store at the mall and walked right into a group of four or five young adult guys. One of them said, "Hey, my friend here has always wanted a Chinese girlfriend." Another guy chimed in, "Where are you from?" And yet another, "Do you want to go out?" I ignored them and walked away.

Or the time when I left my son's pediatrician's office and was buckling my son into his car seat. A guy had followed me out of the office and to my car. He said, "Hey, do you play tennis? You have a tennis player body. I used to know this Korean girl who plays tennis." He then went on to ask "what I was" and if I worked in a nail or a massage parlor. I quickly hopped into my car and drove away.

Then there are the many truck drivers who honk at me when I pass them on the highway. Or the men who yell "konnichiwa" and catcall me.

I wish I could count on just one hand how many times sexual comments have related to my being Asian, but I can't.

In my early 20s, I became friends with more and more Korean adoptees, and it was then that I learned that these incidents were not unique to me. The terms Yellow Fever and Asian Fetish were tossed out (I'll let you google those terms on your own and at your own risk), and I learned about the websites devoted to finding just the right Asian girlfriend. My friends and I would collectively roll our eyes at the instances of being called exotic Asians, and together we'd laugh about the stereotypes that were shaping others' views of us.

Parents, please read about the objectification and exotification of Asian women in particular and build in conversations with your daughters about race and gender and the related assumptions. This is necessary in being a transracial adoptive parent. Your child's experiences will be different than yours.

For when your daughter is confronted with her first "exotic submissive Asian" comment, she needs to know that Yellow Fever and the Asian Fetish are based on stereotypes and not on anything she's done. She needs to know it's not wrong to be Asian and that she's not the only one being objectified and exoticized based on her race. She needs to know that she can be secure in how she looks and that you won't dismiss the instance with, "Well, honey, it's just because you're so beautiful". She needs to know that you do in fact see her as Asian, and that being Asian is good and okay... because if you don't see race (as many people ascertain), then how can you even start to understand these race-based experiences she is sharing with you?

She needs to know that you are knowledgeable and strong enough to handle conversations about her experiences, for you are her parent, her advocate, and her ally.

{ to keep up with this conversation and more, follow me on Facebook }

can't believe I'm typing "boob job" here

About a week ago, the short video, "IF YOU WOULDN'T SAY IT ABOUT A BOOB JOB..." started popping up on blogs and on Facebook feeds of adoptive parents and non-adoptive parents alike. Several friends shared the link with me, asking if I'd seen it and what I thought.

I didn’t initially recognize that the video was related to adoption, as I was a bit confused by the title, so I didn’t know what to expect when I started watching.

After I got over the awkwardness of it all (I mean, come on, hearing and watching a grown man and father say the words boob job is just uncomfortable!), I was able to watch through the end.

The guy was obviously using humor (or what he sees as humor) to make a point. That humor wasn't lost on me, but I also didn't think the video was all that hilarious. And it isn’t something that I’d feel comfortable posting as a PSA on my Facebook page.

A few reasons this video didn't sit well with me:

- Comparing and contrasting adoptees to boob jobs. Weird. Icky. Odd. Sorry, but (surprise!) boob jobs are not what I want to be compared to, and definitely not what I want others to think about when they consider asking me a question about my kids. I know the guy may not be saying that adopted kids are just like boob jobs, but it comes out all wrong in the way he frames his compare/contrast idea.

This video’s place in the broader, macro conversation about adoption. This video is being well-liked and enjoyed by many. Adoptive parents (and those who know them) are cackling with laughter. I realize that, yes, it must get old when people ask you about your children all the time, though parents did sign up for this when they agreed to adopt. Further, I know that when adoptees have chosen to share perspectives about uncomfortable questions and/or sensitive areas about adoption (just as this father is doing), their voices are sometimes quieted by those who question their happiness or wonder if they love their adoptive parents. The father in this video, on the other hand, is able to create this film, and my guess is that few folks, if any, are wondering if he loves his daughter or are assuming that he’s an unhappy father. In the broader conversation about adoption, adoptive parents’ perspectives are widely accepted, while adoptee perspectives are still being challenged with unfair assumptions about adoptees. This is not okay.

- He’s still saying it’s okay to ask intrusive questions. Initially I thought I liked how the guy offers viewers other ways of asking sensitive questions, but when I watched it a second time, I realized he is essentially making the point that it's still okay to ask intrusive questions... well, as long as you use the right words and ask in his accepted format. I don't agree. Some of these questions just shouldn't be asked. And, the question, "Where is your daughter from?" is just as bad as, "Where'd you get her from?" Equating skin color to "otherness" and insinuating that one may not be "from here" based on skin color is faulty.

Additionally, as my husband and I were talking, he pointed out that most of the people posting and watching this video are likely already connected to adoption in some way. It’s mostly adoptive parents or friends of adoptive parents sharing the video because they think it's funny, because they’ve experienced the same questions, or because they want people to stop asking them questions. So if these are the people posting and watching, they already know not to ask these questions. At least we hope. So the fact that this guy frames the video as a PSA maybe kind of works -- but is it really doing much good otherwise? Or is it just a funny way to make a point, maybe get a little online attention/props, and make people laugh?

On my Facebook page, I shared a post from The Lost Daughters blog, prefacing the link with, "I'd urge you to also read the perspectives of several adult adopted women who converse about the video and its implications in the broader, macro conversation about adoption. Perhaps they mention something you have not yet considered. As adoptive parents, let's keep listening to and learning from adult adoptees."

In this Lost Daughters post, several female adoptees converse about the video. They make some of the same points that I mention above, along with others with which I whole-heartedly agree. The use of the word biological. Making infertility the only question one really shouldn't ask, yet please, go ahead and ask intrusive questions about adopted children and their place in my family. The reality that some adoptive parents just don't want to deal with these comments when it's ultimately the adoptees who are affected.


Do I think you're a terrible adoptive parent if you watched this video and laughed? Nah.
Do I know that some adoptees watched this video and found it hilarious? Of course.
Did some adoptees tell me that they thought this video was far from funny but would never say so out loud, as they don’t want to be seen as an “angry” adoptee. Yes.

These questions that our children overhear can be deeply internalized without authentic conversation and discussion between adoptive parent and child. When educating families about how to talk with their kids about adoption, I include a part not only about responses but also a part about the importance of talking with their children after overhearing a question related to the child’s race or adoption. So as you and your seven-year old get into the car after grocery shopping, you might say, “Sweetie, I was thinking about the question that gentleman asked about where you’re from…” Or, “Honey, do you know WHY people ask us if you’re my real child?” Or, “The reason some people ask where you’re from is because many people assume…” Or, “Sometimes people may stare at us because…”

Humorous attempts at making a serious point sometimes work. In my opinion, this one falls short by using offensive ideas and language and fails to address some important underlying issues related to transracial families.

Humor may be comfortable (and yes, sometimes it is used appropriately), but let’s also remember the more important work that needs to be done in respecting our children’s privacy, talking with our kids about these very comments, empowering them to handle the questions in a variety of ways, and finally remembering that our uncomfortable and frustrating encounters as adoptive parents likely pale in comparison to the experiences and losses that our children navigate throughout their lifetimes.