Welcome back to Blogville everyone, thanks for joining me in a hot beverage, for me a lemon ginger tea, and another dose of my thoughts. Today’s thoughts are about assumptions in adoption. It seems commonly felt that a part of one’s identity is looking like their family members. Often in my life I felt that people would tell me how much I looked like my mom as a way of reassuring me that being adopted didn’t ‘show’.
This type of attitude is often a challenge for me. When one does not physically resemble their adoptive family members, as is usually the case in intercultural adoptions, it seems to inspire comments from others. Even when it is a cultural match, it still seems to welcome comments from others. This brings out many emotions for me as the comments are often confusing for young children. There are people who actually look like their dogs but you don’t hear people saying, ‘wow your German Shepherd has many of your features, the breeder did a great matching job!’
As an example, take the person sitting on a bench at the mall, relaxed, and just people watching. Say they see a child of Asian descent come out of a book store with their Caucasian parent. Seriously, you can literally see the little smile of approval as they silently applauding that Caucasian adoptive parent for ‘saving’ that poor Asian child. Silently they watch that parent/child interaction and think how hard, and expensive, it must have been to have gone through an international adoption. The bench sitter smiles and is just about to comment, likely words of praise for having ‘saved’ this little child, when the other parent comes out of the book store to join them. Suddenly the bench sitter realizes that the child’s other parent is of Asian descent.
So many people still “judge that book by its cover”. For example, when people see a mixed race family they automatically assume ‘adoption’. Not only adoption but what I call, ‘good deed adoption’. I believe people think of International adoption as some kind of humanitarian mission instead of simply as a way to grow their family. Personally, I don’t think these internationally adopted children feel like they have won some kind of prize, or family lottery. I think they not only feel the loss of their birth parents, but also the loss of their birth extended family members, and additionally, they likely feel the loss of their entire country. Imagine, thinking no one in your whole country wanted you or could look after you.
Interestingly, when your skin colour matches your parent’s skin colour you are not immediately recognized as an adopted person. I remember people telling me how much I looked like my mother, and that the agency had done a great job matching us. I hate to break it to people but physical resemblance is not necessarily a consideration when matching children and adoptive families. I also hate to be the one to inform folks that, in my personal case, the worker simply called my mom, gave her my age and gender, and asked her if she would be interested. To the best of my knowledge, no photos or physical descriptions were exchanged between the agency and my prospective adoptive parents prior to meeting my new mom and dad. The first time my mother laid eyes on me was on the day the worker dropped me off, had lunch, and left to drop off another child with another family. I think you would be surprised to learn how many people think that workers try to disguise a child’s status as an adopted person by making sure they look as much like their adoptive family as possible. That simply is not true.
In my career as an adoption worker, I have worked with many birth mothers who actually looked for qualities in prospective adoptive families that were opposite to the type of family they grew up in. For example, a birth mother who was raised as an only child will sometimes only consider families that have an existing child. They might only consider families who are active, or families who like to travel, and even families where the mom does not work outside of the home. Personally, I have never had a birth mother ask me to look for adoptive family where the child will grow up looking like the adoptive parents. Sure, things like skin colour might be considered by birth parents, but in my experience they just wanted to make sure their child did not ‘stand out’ as having been adopted.
Older children who are being considered for adoption have the opportunity to make a ‘wish list’ of the type of family profiles they would like to consider. Their wish lists often included things like if the prospective families had pets, if they had other children, what they liked to do for fun, if they liked music, or if they knew how to play checkers. In my experience these children and youth were not worried about looking like their new parents, they were more focused on being accepted by them and by how they would have fun as a family. Sometimes it was as simple as whether or not they would have their own room or whether or not there would be someone there when they got home from school. I have never met a child or youth whose wish list included, ‘I don’t want to look adopted’.
Realistically, there are many examples of people’s judgement of families in general, not just adoptive ones. For example, I’ve heard things like, “I don’t know what happened to her, born to a family of musicians and she is tone deaf.” Or “Funny how he is the only kid who enjoys participating in sports in that family.” Having been in their shoes as an adoptee, when I was preparing children and youth for adoption placements as a worker, I would let them know that everyone has an opinion about families in general, and especially about kinship and adoptive families, but that the only opinions about their adoption and their adoptive family that really count are their own. I hope it helped prepare them for the people who are judgmental and opinionated in our society, being adopted can be hard enough.
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‘See’ you next time.
Welcome back to Blogville my friends, thanks for joining me today. I am drinking a lovely Caribbean Chai tea as I write today’s blog. I’d like to offer a warning to gardeners out there as this is a story about carrot failure/success (lol) but it is also much more about what I learned.
I have a half barrel in my front yard that came from my husband’s family. For generations this oak barrel held many wines made by his grandfather, his uncles and his father. Sadly, just like many other traditions, these activities have been lost as these family members left us. Those are incredible family memories for my husband, so, many years ago when we moved into our then new home, my neighbour kindly cut one of those barrels in half for us. I repurposed the barrel by filling it with soil and starting a new tradition; experimenting with planting different seeds in my new ‘garden’.
My father, an avid gardener, thought this experiment was not only hilarious, but destined to fail. When I planted purple potatoes I thought my dad would fall over laughing, that is until I sent him pictures of my fall harvest. Sure there were only 8 or 10 of them but they were healthy and pretty good sized. Each spring he started asking what the big experiment would be this year. After dad passed, I would think of him every time I planted, tended, and harvested (most of the time) something new I had tried growing in the barrel.
Lately, my young granddaughter has been helping to choose the ‘crop’ and prepare the barrel to plant seeds. It is wonderful how she takes each tiny seed in her little hand and places it gently into the soil. Each time she visits she looks in the barrel to see if there are any new sprouts. If an errant ball, frisbee or badminton birdie launched by her brothers or cousins happens to land in the barrel, the guilty party is given her best stink eye and a warning to be more careful. She will then rush over to make sure all is well in the barrel.
This year we planted heritage carrots, the multi-coloured ones, in our barrel. They really weren’t doing well and as she inspected them she found the ones that were growing, were only growing on one side of the now somewhat tipped barrel. She inspected the carrot tops and suggested to her grandfather that the barrel was ‘too tippy’. So my husband and our young grandsons heaved and pushed and finally lifted that barrel until she and I were able to shove an old patio stone under the sinking side of it. She inspected the crop, and announced that things should be better now.
In all actuality carrots should be planted in a garden, not a half-barrel, if you want them to do well. So what did we find at harvest time the other day? We found 16 of the tiniest carrots I have ever seen. The biggest one was just the size of my palm and the smallest, just slightly bigger than my thumbnail. What did my granddaughter see? As she pulled each one up she marvelled at it’s colour, she had never seen a yellow carrot! Or a red carrot! She was enamoured by the fact that they were the tiniest, most colourful carrots she had ever seen. Her narration of the size or colour of each carrot that she pulled from that soil reflected a pride in her crop that only a child could feel.
I noticed that when she plucked the first carrot, with the excited vigour of a young child, and saw how tiny and fragile it was despite the large green foliage above ground, she immediately reigned in her harvesting technique and began tugging ever so gently and with such care. It was incredible to see that level of caution from such a young child based solely on what she thought the carrots needed. It was a proud grandmother moment for sure.
As I watched her caring for, and then harvesting her little crop so carefully, I suddenly thought about adoption and that barrel. The ‘natural’ place for carrots to grow is obviously in a garden, but I saw in my granddaughter great pride in what these little carrot seeds had achieved while living in a different environment than most carrots. When I witnessed the love and care my young granddaughter invested in these little carrots, I felt it was much like the love and care my adoptive parents gave to me, and it was enlightening. Since the carrot seeds weren’t planted in their ‘natural’ environment, she instinctively felt they needed extra care and attention; just like children in adopting or kinship families.
We need to stop telling adoptive parents that they should raise their adoptive children ‘as if born’ to them, because the truth is that they were actually born to another set of parents. Instead, we should simply advise adoptive parents to do their best raising their children, and like all families before them, seek support from their extended family and their community because parenting is a tough job.
There is much research today about the negative impact of adoption on the adoptee. While I concur with much of the research, and agree in principle about the impact, I also wonder about the impact of not having been adopted. If adoption didn’t exist, I might have grown up in foster care or group care, eventually aging out and being abandoned by the ‘system’, much like the unplanted carrot seeds left behind in the the little packet.
Though the trauma of adoption has stunted my emotional growth in many ways, my parents always took great pride in who I am and in what I could accomplish, just like my granddaughter is proud of her little carrots whose seeds she rescued from a little packet and gave them a chance at life. I believe that so many feelings of self-worth and self-image are impacted, even mitigated, not by how you were valued when you were born, but by how you were valued by those who nurtured you.
As always, your comments are welcome here, or by sending me an email at email@example.com. ‘See’ you next time.
Welcome back to Blogville, will you join me in a green tea as you read today’s blog post? I’m so glad you are here.
Question for adoptive parents. When you notice the child you have adopted examining your face, do you assume that they are examining your face and imagining what their birth parent’s face might look like?
I suggest that you not assume they are looking at the differences between your face and theirs. They may actually be examining the similarities. Remember, even children of a different culture than yours typically have two ears and two eyes, a nose, a mouth, a forehead, cheeks, and a chin, just like you do. These features may look very different or very much the same as yours. I suggest asking children to identify what is the same between the two of you, and what is different.
If a child has dark skin and you are very pale-skinned, they are going to notice. If you try to tell the child you actually have the same skin, just different shades of it, they may find that confusing. Talk with them about the differences in your skin. After all, their brown eyes and your blue eyes are different for a reason, their hair may also differ from yours, along with their body type, height and weight. These differences exist because they have been adopted. Talk about that.
Your child will recognize and identify your face simply because it is the face of their parent; the parent who tucks them in, reads them books, tells them “no”, and takes care of them. Is that not the most important recognition? Sure, they may wonder why their face is very different from yours (if it is), but parenting is not about looking the same, it is about being recognized and identified as their parent.
Children may look more like their birth parents, especially in the case of intercultural adoptions, but when they look at your face, they know. They can see who you are, more importantly, who you are to them. Even children who maintain contact with their birth family members know who their parenting parents are. Most children at one time or another fling angry words at their adoptive parents when they never, or rarely, do this with their birth parents. This usually happens simply because they know they can risk sharing their frustrations and feelings with you, and that, no matter what, you will still be there for them.
I remember as a child and then as a youth always being physically compared to someone in my adoptive family. Mom would say that I was tall like my dad, or like her mother. My dad would simply say I was tall for my age, then, without thinking it through, would sometimes say I looked like a ‘hockey stick with hair on it’. Yeah, go ahead and cringe, I know I did.
My dad tried to navigate uncomfortable things with humour. My mom, I think, was just trying to make me feel like I belonged. I think she truly believed that if I thought I looked like someone in my adoptive family, I would not try to shake my birth family tree. I think she was just trying to make sure I felt like I belonged.
How I remember it is just having a strong sense of wonder. I would wonder if I looked more like my birth mother or my birth father. If I passed them on the street, would I recognize them, I wondered. I would look with interest at people in my school who looked even the slightest bit like me and wonder; Did their mother have a baby before them with another man? Did their father make someone else pregnant before he met their mother? Could they be a half-sibling to me, or maybe even a full sibling? This wondering had nothing to do with loving my adoptive parents and everything to do with simple curiosity.
So many adoptees today are spared that wondering. They may have actual pictures of birth parents and other birth relatives in a life book that was gifted to them in the adoption process. They may have contact with birth relatives with whom they can compare their likenesses and differences. I think that it would have been pretty neat if that could have happened for me. Who I looked like may have helped me see into my future. When you are young the following questions can matter a great deal:
Would I be tall, or slender? Should I consider athletics? Would I get bad acne in adolescence?
What changes could I expect in my body as I grew into an adult?
These are just some of the many things I had wondered about.
That being said, I never had to wonder about the faces of my adoptive parents. I knew the shape of their faces by heart because I saw them every day as they parented me and helped me navigate through life. I knew the colour of their eyes, how they darkened when I misbehaved, and how they lit up with pride at my accomplishments. I knew that my dad was tall, and strong enough to carry me on his shoulders and that the world looked very far down when he did. I knew that my mother’s arms fit around me just right and that her hand always seemed to have a tissue there for when my heart was breaking. I knew that I was fair-haired while both of them were dark-haired but my mother often warned that their hair would get lighter as it turned grey from worrying about me. ‘No one knows a woman’s true hair colour anyway’ my dad would say.
I would know their hands anywhere; I ran from them when I had misbehaved and I ran to them when needed help. My dad’s hand and fingers often gripped a pencil tighter and tighter as he tried to get me to understand math, an ongoing exercise in futility. My mother’s hands were always busy creating sweaters, hats, and scarves; her fingers deftly running the Singer sewing machine to create pants long enough for me so I didn’t look like I was ‘expecting a flood’.
When I looked at my parents, all I saw was love. It never mattered to them that I was born to other people, I was theirs. It was their responsibility to turn me into a productive and kind human being. They took on that responsibility through paperwork, not labour and delivery, but they took that commitment very seriously.
As an adult, through changes to adoption disclosure laws, I got to know the faces of my birth parents. I got to know the faces of my birth half-siblings. This information did fill in some lifelong gaps for me. My birth father was a very tall man, with blue eyes. My own face is reflected in the photographs of my birth mother, uncannily so in fact. But when you talk to me about my mom or my dad it is not my birth parents’ faces I see, it is the faces of the two people who shaped me to be who I am today, my adoptive parents’ daughter.
Thanks for reading! As ever, I would love for you to share your comments. If you prefer a less public forum to do so please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next time.
Welcome back to Blogville my friends. No doubt I am drinking orange pekoe tea with milk as I try to organize my thoughts. I apologize in advance for any disorganization. I also offer Blogville visitors a trigger alert if they are grieving. It’s almost a year for me.
I cannot believe we are coming up on the first anniversary of losing you mom. For months after you passed away, each Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. I would pour a tea and reach for the phone to call you for our “weekly visit” and then I would remember. Your number is no longer in service. That lead me to remember your stories of when you worked for the Bell Telephone in Toronto as a young woman starting her new life in the big city.
On November 11th I tried to remember all of the stories of the men whom you worried about while the war was going on, and how you worked in a bomb factory. I recalled your description of how, when the war ended, people ran into the streets in celebration, and how that unknown man in uniform picked you up and kissed you in the street. Though you were mortified at his public display of affection, it was a day you would never forget. I will try to remember it for you.
The first Christmas without you was just so strange. We usually spoke on the phone of course, and you would ask how my grandchildren liked what Santa brought them and what I was cooking for dinner? Turkey of course mom, with dad’s secret rice dressing recipe that he once found to accommodate your Celiac Disease. Without our call mom, there was no Merry in Christmas.
You always found January so long. On our Saturday calls we would talk about the summers you worked at resorts in the Muskokas where you learned to make those fancy shapes, swans and things, out of the cloth dinner napkins. You never showed me how and suddenly I regret never asking you to show me. Speaking of folding, people always admired how you would trifold towels to save space (it works!) and how you folded bedsheets so perfectly.
February calls were trips back in time to the Cochrane Winter Carnival, chatting about the torch light parades, the talent shows and carnival Princess pageants. Oh how we would often laugh about how, as young children, my friend Sandra C. and I entered the ice fishing derby. We got up at the crack of dawn and went down to Lake Commando with sandwiches, thermoses of hot chocolate, and fishing gear, but without an auger to make a hole in the ice to fish through. I can hear the echo of your laughter. It was one of your favourite stories.
Our March calls were filled with excited planning for our Easter visit. You looked forward to your great grandchildren searching all the nooks and crannies of your house, (the house you had grown up in), for the chocolate and candy left for them by the Easter Bunny, just like your grandchildren once had. You would always ask for a taste of something from their basket to teach them about sharing.
April calls were often filled with stories about dad because this was his birthday month. When dad was still with us we would plan our visits around his birthday, a date eventually made even more special when his great-grandson was born only one day before his. Don’t worry mom, we still think of dad when we celebrate our son’s birthday.
The month of May this year brought a heaviness to my heart. My first Mother’s Day without my mother. I missed you so.
June phone calls had once been filled with questions first about grandchildren’s report cards, then great-grandchildren’s report cards. Education was very important to you. We would also be making plans for celebrating your upcoming July birthday. Sometimes you knew all of the plans, sometimes we conspired to add little surprises. Your 97th birthday was your last, and you still seemed too young to leave us.
No excitement in anticipation of a visit to Barry’s Bay this summer, but a dreaded one. The visit we made was to see your memorial plaque at the hospital and to make sure the etchings on your headstone had been completed. There was something about seeing your ‘end date’ that took my breath away. At the same time, seeing the Jack-O-Lantern in the O of October made me smile, like you smiled when I threatened to put one there if you dared to leave this life on October 31st.
August brought a flood of memories of you on my long ago wedding day. I could see you hanging your rosary on the clothesline to keep the rain away and hear your reassurance that the sun would shine brightly, which it did, but not as bright as your smile when you saw me, your daughter, as a bride.
September calls would be filled with questions about first days of school. There were many extra calls for all the September birthdays and you never forgot any of them, or the other birthdays throughout the year. We would answer the phone and you would say, “oh it’s just me. Can I speak to the birthday girl (or boy)?”
October has been the hardest. This time last year we spent a little longer with you following our annual Thanksgiving visit as we impatiently awaited the birth of our sixth grandchild, your eighth great-grandchild. He arrived just nine days before you left us. You were very excited at the news of his birth, you loved seeing the pictures of him. About five days after he arrived, you suddenly became so ill. Those seven hours of driving to get to you felt like an eternity! I am so grateful for the hours we had together at the hospital before you left us. We held hands, I read to you, I told you stories about the grandchildren, I helped you eat what you could. I cared for you like you had cared for me all my life with you, with all my heart. I suggested you hang on until All Saints Day or All Souls Day and begged you not to leave us on Halloween. The Jack-O-lantern on your headstone shows how well you listened.
Two days ago we celebrated your great-grandson’s first birthday. Soon we will be marking the one year anniversary of the day you left us. When you adopted me, you taught me a mother’s love while freely giving yours to me, and through your example I was able to give my love to my children. I will be forever grateful for the gift of a mother’s love. I miss you mom, but you are forever in my heart.
Thank you for reading my blog today. If you still have parents: birth; adoptive; kinship; foster; in-laws, please give them two hugs, one from you and one from me. 🤗 🤗 email@example.com
Welcome back to Blogville, thanks for joining me today. As I write this blog I am sipping a ginger turmeric tea blend, a perfect autumn warmth.
I woke up this morning at my usual time and wondered if there was a storm outside. It was dull, more like early evening, when just days ago the morning sunlight found the careless cracks in the curtains and yelled at me that it was morning. I should have seen it coming when more and more leaves crunched under my feet after having put on their glorious bright wardrobe before they fell. Oh no, it looks like fall is here!
I am captivated by the fact that the magnificent and colourful display and subsequent falling of leaves from their tree branches is called abscission, so close to the word adoption.
It is true! According to my web search “When temperatures drop below freezing, the abscission layer hardens more rapidly, cutting off the leaf's connection to the tree.” (Jim Leser Cedaredge Tree Board 2019.) That quote somehow not only reminds me of children awaiting adoption, but it also reminds me of the treatment of birth mothers, especially in the 1950s and 1960s.
Like the colourful fall leaves on the trees, many birth mothers may have been once warmly admired and even envied by their community for who they were, maybe for their beauty, or their talents, perhaps even envying their bright futures. But when those same youthful girls or women found themselves unmarried and pregnant, the temperature dropped and often they began feeling a distinct separation from their community. Many found themselves abandoned by their own families, the birth fathers, and the birth fathers’ families; talk about a temperature drop. The once beautiful leaf admired by many, dropped to the ground to dry up, often to be walked on, and then suddenly disappearing from the lawn.
I am reminded of what the first frost does to the leaves when the abscission layer separates the leaf from the tree. Suddenly, like those leaves, the birth mother finds herself separated from her support system; the birth father, her friends, family, and community. These women, like fall leaves, are suddenly transitioned from the spectacular autumn colour show to an irritating pile of leaves needing to be removed from the lawn, or left untended to be buried under the coming snow. So, like the fall leaves, a birth mother is either removed from her community to a home for unwed mothers, perhaps even a far away relative, or she remains at home where she is buried by a thick layer of shame in her community. Coincidentally, birth mothers were often referred to as ‘fallen women’.
The truth is that each of us likely has an unwed birth mother in our family tree, though perhaps on a slightly less colourful branch. Perhaps on a branch hidden deep within the tree. In addition to the unfortunately typical reactions to unplanned pregnancies, such as families shipping birth mothers off, or communities shaming them, there were a couple of other options. For example, in the past, many couples who found themselves expecting an unplanned child were hurriedly married before the pregnancy became obvious; noting the many ‘premature’ births in those days. Somehow, if the birth mother married, her unexpected or unplanned pregnancy did not impact on her reputation, as if marriage removed the tarnish. It would appear that nuptials, entered into voluntarily or not, magically negated the community’s view of pre-marital sex.
If a quick wedding was not an option, many families created cover stories. A common cover story was where the actual birth mother became ‘sick’ or she was ‘needed at home’ and her own mother would then pretend to be expecting a child. This resulted in grandmothers raising their grandchildren as their own birth children, while the true birth mother was demoted to the role of sibling. Family birth records and government registries are filled with altered birth certificates and claims of premature births; which reminds me of those earlier mentioned layers of fallen leaves whose colour has faded and they have been buried by the heavy burden of snow.
I feel that the role of the birth father was kind of like the role of chlorophyll as it relates tree leaves. While dating the birth mother, the birth father expended a lot of positive energy, therefore creating a sweetness to the relationship. Like the change in seasons, an unexpected pregnancy often created a drop in temperature and reduced the ‘chlorophyll in the leaves’, so the relationship’s sweetness often started to break down. Finally, though there may not be any obvious signs that chlorophyll once played such an important role, it is clear to all what the leaves have been up to. A significant difference is that while the chlorophyll simply goes temporarily dormant, the brightly coloured leaf is completely removed from the tree.
It is important to note that many birth fathers were never made aware of the pregnancy, therefore not being given a chance to plan for their own infant. In many instances, society and the birth parents’ families often took over the decision making without offering options to, or considering the wishes of, the birth parents. To me, the difference is the unequal burden of responsibility on the birth mother as compared to the birth father, when both were equally involved in the conception. I would like to think that, if given the opportunity, many birth fathers and/or their families would have taken responsibility and raised those unexpected babies with love and acceptance.
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