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Susan Ito trying to do it all: reading writing mothering spousing daughtering working living

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Happy Birthday ChaCha, or, Who's Your Daddy?

The youngest member of our family turned two yesterday. ChaCha, officially known on her birth certificate as "Lil Pawz Got the Moves" (what is with these bizarre long pedigree names?) was born on February 7th, 2004 and has been with us since September of that year. I had a weird adoptee moment yesterday when I realized that we have more access to our dog's lineage then I do to mine. I know that ChaCha's father is named Max. But after 46 years of being alive I still don't know the name of mine.

I had another little jolt yesterday when I went to visit a new doctor for the first time. I had a pile of paperwork to fill out, including the dreaded Family Medical History. But instead of just writing a hundred little question marks, or scribbling in huge letters, I DON'T KNOW, there was a nice little checkbox that said, "Check here if you do not know anything about your birthfamily's medical history." It certainly acknowledged the problem, so that's step forward (isn't it?). And I checked it. But it still made me feel sad.

Then I got my latest issue of Brain, Child in the mail. I was happy to find a really powerful essay by my friend Marie Lee, whose great novel, Somebody's Daughter was just chosen as a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award. GO MARIE!

There was also a six-page long book review that focused on books about international adoption, about half from the POV of adoptive parents, and the other half written by adult adoptees. The reviewer was admittedly an adoptive parent whose children, one from Vietnam and the other from Korea, are still small. She's understandably really wanting to read the stories that have the "happy ending."

I'm a parent. I understand that. We want things to be smooth and painless for our kids. But life just isn't that way all the time, or necessarily even most of the time, and we want someone who will support us through the hard stuff, and not to look the other way singing "la la la." I just read an amazingly poignant post by Ji-In over at Twice the Rice, where she discusses "Why I Can't Discuss Race with My Mom." Ji-In was adopted from Korea and raised in lilywhite Iowa.
Mom thought if she could foster my musical talents and call attention to my good grades, that the racial identity matters would fade into the background. That's my theory, anyway. Because I know that "racial identity" was not, and still is not, a term that resides with her, in her rural Midwestern space. Assimilate. Rinse. Repeat.

Back to the book reviews. Basically, they fell into two categories: the ones that the reviewer liked were the ones written by adoptive parents, and provided the longed-for "happy ending" even though the children were no older than ten. Excuse me. You are SO far away from a happy ending it's not even funny. She compares these to the sad and bitter tales written by adult adoptees who have a (hello!) different perspective. The reviewer seemed to take it as a failure and a personal affront that these adoptees were not fully pleased with their lucky American lives. In the end she seemed resigned to the possibility that her own children might some day have the same longings and questions.

I was so frustrated that she would even think to compare the two. If you'd interviewed these adults when they were seven years old, they'd probably seem pretty happy too. A huge percentage of seven year olds are pretty content with their lives. Try interviewing them again when they're sixteen, twenty, thirty. I'm not saying that adoptees are doomed for misery (I don't believe that) but I also don't think parents can dust their hands together when their kid is eight, and say, "See? Happy ending!"

One of the only truly complete, thoughtful accounts of transracial/international adoption that I've read, was written from the perspective of long years, when the "child" had grown into adult and the parent had enough experience, wisdom and humility to put it all together. That book is Beyond Good Intentions by Cheri Register, and I highly recommend it.


Blogger Bustopher Jones said...

Great post, Susan. I'd love to read more about your experiences. And happy birthday to Cha Cha!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 12:00:00 PM

Blogger Bustopher Jones said...

P.S. I love your avatar!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 12:00:00 PM

Blogger melanie said...

yes, happy bday to Cha Cha, a.k.a. Lil Pawz etc. (that is actually the coolest pedigree name I've ever read...usually it's something more pretentious like "Sir Walter's Braveheart in Springtime" or something like that).

I enjoyed this post. It made me think of my aunt, who adopted my cousin when she was 6 mos. old, from the Philippines. My aunt is Filipino, my uncle is British, and they live in an ethnically diverse area, so right now things seem to be ok (my cousin is 12). I'll recommend this post for my aunt to read. I gave her "A Ghost from Heart's Edge" and she loved it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 12:29:00 PM

Blogger Bustopher Jones said...

I failed to mention that I have three adopted Korean children in my family - two nieces and a nephew - in two different families. They are still kids now, but it will be interesting to see how things unravel as they get older.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 12:40:00 PM

Blogger Susan said...

Melanie, it sounds like your cousin is in a good situation as far as staying connected to Filipino culture. Which is a great thing. You know, if I hadn't been raised by my parents and gotten such a huge dose of Japaneseness (?), I don't know if I would've ever had the courage to be part of Rice Papers. I got a lot from them.

Bustopher, that's an interesting word: unravel. I hope it doesn't unravel too much. A great book I read recently by a KAD (Korean American adoptee) was The Language of Blood, but Jane Jeong Trenka. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 1:28:00 PM

Blogger Bustopher Jones said...

Ha! Well, I meant unravel in the sense that a story unravels, not a sweater :) I will check out that book.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 2:43:00 PM

Blogger Bustopher Jones said...

P.S. Maybe a better word would have been "unfold."

Friday, February 10, 2006 1:00:00 PM


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