Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Looking white

Halle Berry turns to court to stop ex Gabriel Aubry from straightening their daughter’s hair: report

The Academy Award winner’s lawyer successfully lobbies judge to stop Aubry’s efforts to remove 6-year-old Nahla’s natural curls in what was perceived by Berry to be an effort to make the girl look more Caucasian, according to TMZ.

I have read that many Asian international adoptees - indeed, many Asian girls - go to considerable lengths to look "more white".  This includes everything from lightening their hair to having cosmetic surgery to make their eyes more "round".

As a gravitationally-challenged person (ahem), I understand quite well how people can be dissatisfied with their appearance and feel pressure to look... different than they do.  I understand that this can be especially hard for girls as they are constantly bombarded with images of what the perfect woman ought to look like.  Indeed, entire industries are devoted to helping women look more like Barbie and less like what they actually do.

But to want to look like a totally different race???  That I don't get. 

Anybody want to tell me that Miss Zhang needs to have her eyes done,
or that she'd look better as a blue-eyed blonde???

Granting that any father worth his salt would say the same thing about his daughter(s), I think my little girl is absolutely beautiful.  I wouldn't change a thing about her, and I can't imagine why anybody else would.  More to the point, why should her looks define who she is?


Note to Halle: while I'm a big respecter of law and order and due process, I think that, if you publicly kicked ol' Gabe right in the sweet spot, no jury on earth would convict you.  Just saying.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Understanding the adoptee (pt 2)

Doubtless, this will be a continuing series.  It ought to be so as I keep bumping up against the problem that I don't, despite the best will in the world, fully understand all the challenges that my daughter may well face as she goes through life.  I think that I am no different from any other father in that I would spare her any heartbreak or grief if I could, but, sadly, the world is what it is and she's going to get her portion.  My part is to help her, as well as I can, deal with them.

My wife and I are always on the lookout for stories about adoption and adoptees, and especially writings from adoptees (I have written in the past that these can soemtimes be difficult if not absolutely infuriating to read, but one has his duty).  As this is National Adoption Month, the otherwise loathesome Huffington Post is actually doing something useful for a change and publishing articles by adoptees.  I bring one to your attention.

I suppose you could call me a Chinese-American, but truth is, I'm not really all Chinese and I'm not really all American. I feel different ways in different situations. My name is Emily Champion and I am 15 years old. I was born in China in 1999 but I am growing up in America...


So what am I? Where is my community? I learned this summer that I belong to the community of other international adoptees -- other girls (and some boys) who left their birth countries and are being raised in places where no one looks like them. My mom signed me up for this conference in Ohio called Adopteen because I felt alone in my own community. She said that the only people who would know how I felt would be people who have been through what I've been through. So in the summer of 2014, I headed to Ohio and to Adopteen where I was one of about 130 adopted kids from China (and two very nice Romanian brothers who also came). What I learned there was that I didn't have to face my fears and uncertainties about my past alone because now I have a community. At Adopteen we did teen bonding and activities, and they also gave us plenty of time to spend with each other and just have fun. I never knew there could be so many girls who were just like me. Just to spend time with them was the best opportunity I've ever had. I still keep in touch with some of the girls and boys and they are like my second family. There are two more conferences coming up and I am saving my babysitting money and allowance so that I can hopefully go to at least one of them. This means the world to me.

It has occured to me before that international adoptees are (as the documentary of the same name states), somewhere between.  They are usually raised in white families, yet look Asian (or Hispanic or African).  People automatically expect certain things about them based on appearance, and are understandably surprised when they find that they truth doesn't match expectations.  This must be hard on the adoptee.  It seems to me that adoption camps must be very good for the adoptees as fellow adoptees are really their "community".  We certainly had planned to send our daughter to them when she is old enough, but this article gives us more of a feeling of urgency: it's not just a nice thing to do, but something very like a necessity.

Emily's statement about not feeling "really all American" really bothered me. I was raised to believe that a person, whether his ancestors came over on the Mayflower or whether the ink is still dry on his Certificate of Citizenship, is a by-God AMERICAN, entitled to all the rights and priviledges appertaining thereto. I was in grad school when I was introduced to the idea that people of color, especially second generation immigrants, don't necessarily feel this way as our society doesn't come close to the ideal of "we are all Americans" but instead often treats them like foreigners. In short, it's rather easier for a white person born in this country to believe in the "by-God American" than it is for an international adoptee like Emily.

Or my daughter.

What can the adoptive parent do about the sorts of things that young Emily has experienced?  What can prepare a child for the day when some a$$hole is going to make a racist comment or laugh at him because of a handicap?  Or even when a well-intentioned person tells him that he must be "so smart"?  What ought the parent to do to instill in his child that, "You are an AMERICAN" and that the child can be proud to be Chinese (or Korea or Guatemalan or Ethiopian, &c.) while still being proud to be American?

So much to think about and to prepare for.

I must say that one thing Emily wrote gave me a great deal of satisfaction, and ought to be a model for how bullies should be dealt with in the schools:

It was always fun for the boys in grade school to speak crazy made-up Chinese to me and one boy even told me "to go back to China." The really funny thing was, he did it in gym class and my gym teacher heard him and made him get down on his knees and beg me for forgiveness. It's still one of the best days of my life.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

6 Months Forever Family

6 months ago, we met a sweet, easy going little girl and became parents for the first time.  We were all very nervous, but Caroline never cried.  She reached out and kissed us like we had been together forever.  Adopting Caroline has been the best thing we have ever done.  She has truly blessed us.

Here are the photos from our forever family day:

We recently had a few family photos taken in recognition of six months together and Caroline's 2nd birthday.  Happy 6 month Forever Family Caroline.  We love you!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Racism (?)

I wrote several days ago about racism.  In that vein, I post this recent news article:

Administrators of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were sued by an advocacy group claiming race-based admissions policies violate the constitutional rights of highly qualified Asian applicants.

Students for Fair Admissions Inc., a group which said it represents unidentified college applicants rejected by both schools, alleged in lawsuits filed today that the use of racial preferences illegally limited admission of Asian Americans. [emphasis mine]

It's interesting how things change.  A hundred years ago, discrimination against Asians was of quite a different sort.
However, I suggest that the basic motive is the same: a desire (dare I write it?) NOT to compete against people with a better work ethic*.

Of course, it may well be that the plaintiffs cannot prove that Harvard and Orange County Community College are discriminating based on race, but my gut reaction is that this is EXACTLY what those universities (among many others) are doing.  This speaks volumes about what the colleges think they are for: it's less about attracting the BEST students, and more about attracting the RIGHT students.


(*) The "Asian" attitude towards school is a subject of much humor, especially among Asian kids.  There are many YouTube! videos that feature Asian parents reacting... um... badly... to their kids bringing home less than perfect grades.

In some cases, pressure to do well really isn't a joke.

"Unless she got 800 [on the SAT verbal], I would hug her."

Monday, November 17, 2014


I have a very old-fashioned streak in me.  I shave with a forty-five year-old Gillette safety razor; I write with dip pens (the oldest in my small collection is a "disposable" from about 120 years ago, being a spiral cardboard tube with a metal nib glued in the end).  I even use the USPS for sending actual letters to people.

Lately, I have taken it into mind to "modernize" and get a typewriter.  By good fortune, I was able to find a vintage IBM Selectric in good working order for a very reasonable price.  A quick trip to Charlotte and it was mine.  I have already written two letters on it.  (I say in passing that using a typewriter gives me new appreciation for the skills required to be a typist fifty years ago.  Unlike with a modern word processor - or even a more "modern" correcting typewriter - one really can't afford to be sloppy or careless as mistakes are VERY troublesome to correct!)

I was surprised to find that Caroline was just as intrigued by this device as ol' Baba, and likes to climb onto the paternal knee to bang the keys.

Can a record player be in her future?  An eight-track?  Will she try to learn to drive a three-on-the-column?

          Dear Sir;
          With regard to your letter of the 15th inst., I have the honor to acquaint you that...

N.B. Unfortunately, the typewriter appears to have gone down for the count shortly after this photo was taken.  My barely-educated guess is that the main drive sprocket fractured.  IBM made this from hard plastic, and forty-five years is a long time for a plastic piece to last.  It is apparently known by the cognoscente that this is about the only thing that really breaks in a Selectric.  Getting it repaired will take some doing, I'm afraid, parts having not been manufactured by IBM for decades and a typewriter repair shop being rather a rara avis these days.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Understanding the adoptee

NOTE: Except in cases of reference to a specific person, the pronouns "he / him / his" are intended to be gender neutral throughout the following.

After reading of the opinions of some adult adoptees about adoption, I was quite disturbed.  "Is THIS what my daughter will think in years to come?  Will she, too, be bitter and resentful?  And... is there anything I can do to stop that happening?"

To this end, I think it's useful to try to understand more about how an adoptee* may see and experience the world.  As prospective adoptive parents, we were warned about many of these things but they were lost among concerns about more immediate post-adoption problems like food hoarding, attachment issues, night terrors, etc. (thank God, we haven't had any of those crop up), as well as the understandable excitement over becoming parents and the joy we felt when Caroline became our daughter.  It is worth stating explicitly that not all adoptees are alike, and I attempt here to understand the "angry adoptee".

First, "adoption begins with loss."  This is a brief statement that is, I think, easy to pass off as a mere shibboleth, especially for the parents: after all, we are gaining through the process, not losing.  What might this mean to the adoptee?

Obviously, the adoptee loses his birth family and especially his mother.  Depending on age at abandonment, he may have developed a very close bond with the birth mother / parents.  I don't know if anybody really knows how much of a bond exists between a newborn and his mother, but I think that we all take for granted that it's very close.  Suddenly, that bond is snapped.  The child finds himself alone, then in the arms of many strangers, in a strange place, likely one among many children, denied the very personal, loving attention that he likely experienced even if for a short time.  How confusing this must be for a little child... and how frightening. 

From this...

... to this.
I suspect that this loss actually becomes harder for the child when he is older, especially if he was abandoned shortly after birth.  Particularly for trans-racial adoptees, they begin to notice that they don't look like their parents.  Further, unlike the adoptive parents of a generation or two ago, adoptive parents now are urged to be very open with their children: "You were adopted." The child must wonder why.  And from that, he must wonder if it is - somehow - his own fault.  How might a child feel when he sees other children with their biological parents, getting the love and attention that is normal between parents and child?  "Was I bad? Why didn't they want me?"

Unfortunately, there is no escape from this question as the child is constantly reminded that he is not with his birth parents.  Strangers, even with the kindliest of intent, ask his parents about him as if he is an exhibit, a curiosity.  Strangers then frequently praise the parents for their charity in adopting a child**: "He is so lucky!" and "You're doing such a wonderful thing for that poor child."
Family tree asignments in grammar school.  Family medical history questionnaires.  Simply looking at family photos ("Nobody looks like me").  The child lives in a world where he is constantly reminded that he is out of place, that he doesn't belong.

"Hee-hee!  That man's looking at you so funny, Daddy!"

After loss of the birth parent, the child also confronts a loss of birth culture.  Born in one country, he is raised in another.  His cultural heritage, part of what makes him who he is, is wiped out.  Adoptive parents are urged to try to "honor" or "celebrate" the birth culture, but this is far easier said than done: how can one "teach" culture?  How can one even define it in any meaningful way?  Is it not a fraud for a white American parent to try to teach anything about, for example, Chinese "culture"?  Is there outright danger in trying, in making a child who already feels different have that feeling reinforced by making him try to learn another language and culture ("Why can't I just be like all the other kids?")?  Is there danger in NOT trying, in signaling, even by implication, to the child that his birth culture is unimportant if not outright "bad":

"People where you were born abandon little girls all the time."

"Your home country is so poor that they can't afford to keep their children."

"Only boys are important where you come from."

The child is cut off from his birth parents.  He is cut off from his birth culture.  He is told that the place he was born is bad.  And he may well be told that he is "bad" simply because of the color of his skin.  America has an unfortunately long history of being (ahem) unkind to "outsiders" and especially non-whites, and the adopted child may well have to confront this problem no matter how diligent his parents are in preparing and protecting him from it.  The lack of connection to birth culture, it seems to me, makes this harder for the child: he has no cultural / racial pride to help armor him against racist attacks.  Perhaps worse, he may well be baffled by them: growing up in a white family, he may well FEEL "white", making racism that much more hurtful because, again, it reinforces any feelings that he may have of not truly belonging.

... and what on the inside?
The family itself may send harmful messages.  Quite aside from those parents (and one wonders why they adopt in the first place) who are overtly racist or belittling to their own children, there are things that even the most loving parent may do that undermine the child's self-confidence.  Some - perhaps many - adoptees, for example, complain about the term "Gotcha Day" as it dehumanizes them by implying that they are simply an item that the parents picked up in the same way that they would have taken delivery of a car at a dealership or a parcel at the Post Office.  In the same manner, some adoptees dislike their parents referring to them as a "gift", a gift being an object that it given, not a person.  (Speaking personally, this is hard for me as an adoptive parent to understand: if I refer to my daughter as a gift, it is in the sense that - I think - all parents refer to their children, i.e. as a gift from God***, and somebody that I love and cherish.) 

You BELONG to me, do you hear?!
The child may feel all these things.  He may wonder why he was given up... or if he was, in fact, given up at all.  He may miss his birth parents or, at least, wonder about them.  He may feel isolated in his community or even in his own family.  He may feel objectified, an object of charity or a trinket for his parents (it seems to me that some celebrity adoptions give support to this pernicious idea: what else is anybody to think of a rich singer or actor who swoops into a poor country and voila! leaves a few days later with a baby?  Is it love or a fashion accessory?).  He may even feel survivor guilt: "Why was I adopted and not one of the other thousands - perhaps millions - of children?"

But to whom can he speak about these feelings?  He is, in a real sense, cut off from the very people that he SHOULD be able to turn to: his parents.  To speak of his birth mother, to speak of any feeling of not belonging or of discontent or even simple sadness or confusion might smack of "ingratitude" or even hurt the people who love him so very much... and that he, in his turn, loves very much.  So, he may feel that he's got to hold it in.

Is it any wonder that some adoptees may grow to feel bitter about adoption?

Finally, not all parents are perfect.  There are those - I think, very few - who abuse their children, whether physically, sexually, verbally, or through neglect.  There are others who are temperamentally unsuited to be parents, or just unsuited to be the parents of the children that they have (how many children can say with perfect honesty that their parents don't understand them?  How many parents are frustrated because they can't reach their children?).  Even the best parent makes mistakes: he punishes when punishment isn't warranted, fails to praise when praise is merited, can't spare time when two minutes would make all the difference to a child who needs to talk, attempts to push too hard his own beliefs, prejudices, hopes and regrets off on his child, or simply says the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time.

Is it easier for the adopted child to turn parenting failure into an indictment of adoption?  To seek relief from the pain he feels in the belief that he shouldn't have been adopted in the first place, that the system is corrupt, that it is racist, that it preys on poor families?  Perhaps.

What should the adoptive parent do?  Where is the line between:
  • Telling a child that he's adopted and talking openly about it... and rubbing it in?
  • Honoring the birth parents... and making them into saints?
  • Honoring birth culture... and making it just one more reason for the child to feel different from his peers?
  • Being honest about the reasons that children are given up... and denigrating the child's birth culture?
  • Discussing racism... and putting a chip on the child's shoulder?
  • Celebrating happiness that the child is his... and making the child feel like a trinket?
  • Talking about the feelings the child might have as an adoptee to start a conversation... or inducing those very feelings in the child?
And how can the adoptive parent not personalize it, feel hurt, if the child begins to question adoption or wish to find his birth parents?


(*) In this case, "adoptee" refers explicitly to trans-racial / international adoptees.

(**) We have already experienced this.  We try to explain that WE are the blessed ones, the "lucky" ones, that Caroline is our daughter.

(***) 1 Samuel 1:27: "For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him..."

Friday, November 7, 2014


Since we are not officially celebrating Caroline's birthday until tomorrow, we bought 2 small smores cake squares to share with her today.  She ate a piece after her nap and loved it.

We went out to purchase a few last minute items for her birthday party.  When we got back, we were putting the groceries away and I turned around and discovered Caroline in the floor with the second piece of cake.  She was obviously very determined because the cake was sitting on an extra high counter, so she had to climb to get it.  I figured if she wanted it that bad let her have it.

Our dog Mallory was like "she has cake"

Caroline is a sweet girl so she shared with her best friend who was very appreciative.