Monday, December 11, 2006

Looks like we all just wanna be REAL

Well, in my last post I pulled out the 'real' conversations as an example of things that can potentially side-track adoptive parents. Since then, I've seen some comments elsewhere that touch on that same subject, and I guess I have a bit more to say as I think it all through.

Obviously, no adoption-triad member wants his or her experience to be labeled as, or implied to be, anything other than 'real' - and rightfully so. And that's what makes this discussion of 'real mom' become so personal for some people. Many of us APs appear to be looking at it like this: If she's real, then what am I? Or, if she's real, then I guess I'm not. I have to say that I think this is an overly-simplified (and overly-emotional) way of looking at the situation. After making a much-too-lengthy response amongst the
comments regarding this issue on Paragraphein blog, I thought I should just speak for myself and work through my own questions, right here on my own space instead of someone else's (sorry N!).

It's no secret that - I'm guessing - all APs are eventually going to have to respond to questions about our children's 'real' parents. It's a topic that is just so fascinating to people outside of adoption that they can't help asking (over and over) -so it behooves us to put some thought into the hows and whys of a good response. How will I respond, and why?

I believe that my son's Korean mom is his 'real mom'. True, I don't prefer to be viewed as only a substitute or stand-in, but in my mind's reality, that's what I am - so that's the POV I'm coming from as I write this. Right now it doesn't overly concern me that I'm not his one-and-only. I also can't help but think that some time in the future (yet unknown to me), my son's thoughts and dreams and curiosities about his Korean mom will be every bit as real to him as the fact that I feed him and clothe him and take him to activities and hug and kiss him. His longing for her and love for her and concern for her will be as real as real as real. I suspect. So, if the fact that literally having given life to someone isn't enough reason for an AP to see a first mother as being 'real' - perhaps the fact that first mothers are reality for our children, will convince us to forget the whole name-game.

Anyway, back to example linked above. Store clerk asks about child's "real" mother. WHY would I respond (as adoption propaganda would have me do) with the question, "Do you mean his birthmother"? This is how I see it: We're all so concerned about what 'society' will think of us (APs) if we don't address this misuse of the words 'real mother'. We'd be silently acknowledging that we're something other than real. And how can we be our child's advocate if we allow other people to constantly call our relationship into question like this? We wonder if years of letting our children hear others refer to their birthparents as real (gasp!) will have a negative effect on us, them, and how they feel about us.

Let me propose a different question. How will years of an adoptee hearing his adoptive mother refer to his other real mother as something other than real, make him feel? If I were to rephrase with the birthmother clarification every.single.time. some stranger referred to my son's Korean mom as 'real' - wouldn't I really be saying that she's something other than real? After all, I've substituted a most-telling prefix to her mother status: birth. Birth only, just birth. You, dear store clerk stranger, can put her right out of your mind now. She was there for a time, and now she's gone and it's allllll me. I'm his real mother, please refer to her as birthmother. Now obviously these aren't the (exact) words people use, but they might as well. Don't you think that's what little ears will hear after witnessing this conversation, oh, a hundred times?

I care waaaaaaay, no, infinitely more, about the way in which my son perceives his Korean mother, than I'll ever care what any stranger thinks of me (I should add that I realize his perception of his Korean mother will be his own, but I acknowledge that I could seriously affect that perception by the words and actions I choose). Strangers can think what they want (it's not as if the love an AP has for her child can truly be understood by a stranger, anyway). My child will know whether I love him, and whether my love and our relationship is real, based on how I treat him and others important to him - not based on how I try to 'frame' our relationship and categorize his first mother. I want him to see, amongst many other things, that my desire to treat his flesh-and-blood mother with respect and dignity, is real.


So how would I actually answer the question, "Where is his real mother?"

Well, we have options. yay. We're all different, but I dare say that none of the options has to include a clarification that relegates one mother's position to that of something less than the other's. Honestly, when I have been asked, I've just either 1) Ignored; pretended not to hear 2) Replied, "She lives in Korea" 3) Replied, "We'll let our son choose if and when he wants to discuss his family's make-up" (or similar wording). And this is also an option for those who must verbalize the reality of their motherhood, "He has two real mothers. His other one lives in _____". Actually I think there are probably many more options that let us ALL be real.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Getting side-tracked

So what do you say when you meet someone who is excited about starting the adoption process?

I remember being so giddy about our decision, too, and I see my (old) self in all the new adoptive-parents-in-waiting - not necessarily with the same problems/concerns, but in the memory that we all follow bunny trails in the beginning - not understanding the road to knowledge; certainly not knowing what it looks like or where to find it. To reminisce about my thoughts during those days makes me wish there was a way to let people see into the future.

Couldn't see the forest for the trees, when we decided to adopt.

So many details to work many options on which to become many issues that somehow work their way into the foreground of things for potential adoptive parents to be immediately concerned about (or at least that's how it seems).....that we just truly don't ask the more important questions that would give us pause to consider exactly what we are getting ourselves (and a future child) into. And I would dare say that pre-adoption 'counseling' isn't set up for the task of helping potential adoptive parents really delve into difficult topics and examine our lifestyles and thought processes to see whether we are even minimally prepared for the tasks we are so excited about taking on.

One particularly common example of this side-tracking plays out as such:

Jane and John Doe decide to adopt. Once the decision is made, they immediately know without a doubt that it 'feels' right and nothing is going to stop this dream from becoming reality.

Nosey neighbor #1 asks if they are ever going to have any children of 'your own'. Oh, and wonders if they'll know anything about the child's 'real mother'.

Meltdown/indignation occurs, followed by the previously-coached response of, "The child will be 'our own', and since we'll be the ones changing the diapers, we'll be his/her 'real' mom/dad". [insert 'angry-duh' look]

I give this example not to say that APs are expected to answer to every whim and nosey question from people who literally don't care about the answer to the nosey question they just asked, but as a segway to point out the end result of this phenomenon of needing to validate one's own decision to adopt: we leave our brains and emotions little energy to ponder things that will really matter.

My opinion, three or so years past giddy/need validation stage: Who cares. When I see APs/potential APs repeatedly discussing matters such as the fact that our children *are* 'our own' - I often wish I had an encouraging, thought-provoking way to say, "hey, don't worry so much about that! Instead, remember that your child *does* have another mother, and always will have! Spend your time thinking about how you can honor that connection instead of spending one minute caring about comments from those who will never care like you do!" Or, "Are you prepared to accept the fact that this child will *not* be 'your own'? Instead of defending ourselves to nosey neighbors, we could ask ourselves questions such as -

Are we prepared to accept that our lives are always going to be one big question mark to much of society?

Are we prepared to accept the fact that adoption = loss for so many people the world over?

Are we prepared to accept the fact that it is more important to validate our children's experiences instead of worrying so much about others' perceptions of us?

Are we willing to be our child's ally, even if doing so takes us way out of our previous comfort zones?

Are we fooling ourselves when we survey our family, our friends, our surroundings and come to the conclusion that we are in a good position to raise a child of another race? (Answer to that is probably 'yes'!)

Sometimes people get side-tracked with the costs of adoption. Can we afford to adopt? How can we raise the money? Internet auctions and donations and garage sales and spaghetti dinners and...?? Again, I'm not saying money isn't a valid concern. Despite reports of all the rich, white APs out there, I've yet to meet any of them. But when thinking about money and adoption - it's too bad that potential APs can't see ahead or outside of ourselves enough to ask, why must it cost so much? Am I okay with the fact that I nearly had to sell my soul in order to be able to afford the cost of a child who supposedly needs a home? What doesn't completely add up, here?

Or how about becoming side-tracked by our own family 'business'? "My Dad, bless his heart, is a racist! He's even referred to black people as 'baboons'. How can we talk to him so that he understands he can't say these types of things around our future child?" Well....that's a huge problem, to be sure. Instead of hoping and betting on the notion that dear ol' Grandpa might come around once he sees his cute new [insert race] grandchild, and looking all over for examples of how this exact thing has occurred in other IA families and everything turned out just peachy, it's time to seriously consider what life is going to be like for the AP and especially the TRA (I'm guessing...hell?), regardless of whether or not Grandpa 'accepts' the new baby.

Another off-track (guity on this one, and it's really no huge secret): Potential transracial AP looks around and sees very little in the way of 'culture' in his/her background/family/home/community. Instead of spending hours Googling for 'Asian boy dolls' (btw, don't bother...I don't think you'll find what you're looking for) or purchasing cheap, mass-repro cultural items off the internet, start thinking about whether or not this is going to be a good situation in which a child of color could thrive.

I write all of this not to mock fellow APs or to minimize the struggles and questions that arise during the early adoption process - but the lack of understanding of reality (my own and that of those following behind me) really makes me sad. I also feel that agencies betray their own clients (and the children-to-be-adopted) when they let us slide by without understanding - but that's a topic for another post.

So the question is, when people ask advice about these topics that are kind of side-tracking from reality, what is the proper answer for them? I hate to dash anyone's happy hopes and dreams just like most of the rest of you out there. How to slip in a dose of reality without looking like an 'angry AP'? ;)