Saturday, September 09, 2006


by zoe

My son’s second birthday is coming up and for the second year in a row, I’m anxious and sad and wondering just how this day should be celebrated (on a couple of different levels which I’ll try to describe in the next entry or two).

His first birthday was pretty much overwhelming and completely bittersweet. I’ve heard of many adoptive parents of Korean children going all-out for Dol parties (Americanized, of course – by people with no/little connection to Korean culture) and I worried over what to do about this occasion as, for months, I had been preoccupied with thoughts of all the things my son had left behind.

The night before we were to take custody of our son in Korea was probably the saddest of my life – barring none. I’m not expecting anyone’s sympathy or even understanding – just relaying my experience since that is the only perspective I truly know. We had climbed a mountain near Seoul that evening and had arrived at an overlook just at dusk. I stood there looking out over the bustling city and completely lost it. I tried to take some pictures of the nightscape – but in my mind, no pictures would have ever been necessary. I’ll never forget that crushing feeling; the understanding that our son was leaving behind everything he had ever known in order to be with us – the sights, the sounds, the smells, his people and their history, culture and traditions, his language, the belonging – everything. And not one of those things would I ever be able to provide for him. I thought of a precious baby having been separated from his mother, and now spending his last night with his foster mother, who surely loved him and whom he had grown to love. I was already thinking about the darn first birthday party back then, too…that same night. The thought that he would miss out on what he would have had (a real dol janche) was, I realized, but a drop in the sea compared to everything before my eyes that he would be leaving behind in less than 48 hours.

When it came time for the actual birthday celebration roughly 5 months after he had arrived in the US, I felt like my option of trying to have some semblance of a traditional Korean first birthday party was like catch-22…of course my party would be a failure in many ways, maybe even a complete joke (wrong food, wrong props, misuse/misunderstanding of tradition…the whole ball o’ wax) – but what was the alternative – to pretend I didn’t care about his life, his soul, his beginnings? To perhaps dishonor his Korean heritage and more importantly his mother who actually gave birth to him, by trying to wipe out anything and everything that was a reminder of his roots? Or perhaps to have a regular old party and make sure to tell everyone how ‘American’ he was – make him wave an American flag in each hand as he blew out the candles on his birthday cake? Both of these options seemed awful; the second probably even a bit more than the first. So we did the only thing we felt/knew we should do - we tried to remember/honor as many Korean traditions at his party as we could without making it into a circus.

That night I fell into bed exhausted, quite frankly, and could do nothing but hold my son close to me and cry, knowing that he had lost so much more than one ‘real’ birthday party. He snuggled into my arms and stared into my eyes and patted my cheek with his little hand. Those things that made up his little world on his birth day, were gone. One year later, he was living a completely different life, and I couldn't help but feel that for the rest of his life (or his time with me, anyway) he would be stuck with second-best - of everything…


At 6:35 PM , Blogger Kahlan said...

Wow. This is an amazing post, Zoe! I too went through so many of the same feelings when Pookie turned one. Don't beat yourself up too much though. I truly don't think what you have to offer is necessarily "second-best", just different. Yes, the best thing would have been for our sons to stay with their first mothers/families, but for various reasons they could not. We just have to do our best and respect/honor/appreciate their beginnings. Hugs!

At 2:02 PM , Blogger Third Mom said...

Zoe, I know that crushing feeling, and it truly hurts. That realization that all the good you thought would come for adoption comes with the incredibly sad side that was never really stressed while we planned.

Once you've experienced that pain, you take special care of your child's heritage, I think. It is that important, no question about it.

At 9:03 AM , Blogger cloudscome said...

I can relate to these feelings. Your celebrations is certainly not second best though... bittersweet, painful, missing a huge part of his family, yes. But still full of love and joy.

I tagged you on a meme today. What books are right in front of you?


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