Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween, Adoptees!

This year - the year of admitting that adoption has played a HUGE role in my life - a special tribute to Halloween...that day of the year I've always felt more comfortable. The day that I am not the good, compliant adopted daughter who's grateful to have been rescued from an uncertain future. The day that my wobbly sense of self gets suited up...a witch, a princess, a glam rocker...the day I feel most comfortable.

Any other adoptees who especially enjoy Halloween? The day we get to put on a mask or costume and "adopt" another persona...one not quite so difficult to understand and whose motivations are much more clear? The witch goes, "Hee hee hee" and the pirate rumbles, "Yar, matee." We swish and swagger and there's no confusion. We get to face the world with certainty and purpose. A costume that doubles as extra protection against the world which often seems to mystify us.

On this day, we do fit in. We're just one of the crowd, folks...and not a DAMN CHOSEN BABY.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Latino's & Adoption: The Double Whammy

In other words...it's the culture, stupid!

It appears that so many issues I've attributed to being adopted can also be pinned on the Latino culture. A Latina friend had been hinting as much. So I did some research. Even went as far as to interview the head of one of the first Latino adoption agencies.

Turns out:

1) Infertility (among Latinos) is a loss grieved not only by the couple, but by the entire extended family. Check.

2) Infertility often perceived as punishment from God. Check.

3) Latino parents prefer to adopt GIRLS because they are "easier to handle" and more likely to remain close to her family throughout her life. DING DING DING...DOUBLE CHECK!


1) My adoptive extended family must have also experienced shame....leading to conspiracy of silence about shameful adoption (and shameful illigitamacy);

2) Every question regarding my adoption must have only served as a reminder of my adoptive mother's infertility and a reminder of her punishment. My very existence must have stirred powerful and conflicting emotions. Which explains why, when I was five, she threatened to divorce my adoptive father if he dared mention the "A word" again.

3) Adoptive mother not only Mexican-American and believed girls should stay close to their family (she worshiped at the shrine of her mother)...she had a heightened expectation that this would be true because I was adopted and every time she uttered the words, "and after all I've done for you"...she really meant..."you have to stay with me because you owe me."

Plus...this "you owe me" is an ingrained belief in many Latino families. That children are indebted to their parents and, in exchange for parenting services, the child can grow up and become a little independent but not too independent. An adopted daughter striking out on her own to pursue an education hundreds of miles away? Betrayal. Massive disappointment. Estrangement. No wonder my adoptive parents feared education as much as they did. It only led to more questions and more challenges. No wonder my mother refused to contribute a penny to college...acting as if I'd asked for money to buy drugs. The end result was the same. She lost her daughter. Not to the streets but to the wider world. All those unspoken expectations. The expectations of a lonely infertile woman with the baggage of unresolved grief and all expectations of a tradition bound culture.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Suckerpunched by Birth Mother

Okay. She really didn't mean it. Honestly, she's just not that kind of person. Still, the words sent me reeling. Went about in a kind of daze for hours. Undone by a simple little story.

My now elderly birth mother sent me a lovely gift. I called to thank her for it and took the opportunity to ask what part of Mexico her family (my family) came from. So, as usual, we hopped from that topic to others as is our mutual style and eventually alighted on the subject of domesticity which, it seems, is a hit or miss affair for the both of us. However, she did enjoy a brief flirtation with sewing (as did I) and, with my half-sister chirping her two cents in the background, recalled the pretty dress she'd made for this daughter when she was teenager and how proud my half-sister had been and how she'd danced around like a princess. A peek into the life of birth mother and half-sister. Except, of course, I didn't get a handmade dress. I got relinquished. Now, this isn't to be confused with whining. My mother was desperate and poor at the time and made a brave and heartwrenching decision. Still, after a life of NOT being in touch with my feelings and denying them for the sake of my adoptive family, I'm finally BEING EMOTIONALLY HONEST and what I'm feeling is...SUCKERPUNCHED. Conversations with mothers are often dangerous affairs, even when the mother is welcoming and thrilled to be found. It's the nature of reunion, I guess. Sometimes bitter. Sometimes sweet. But much better than the oblivion of self-denial and biological bewilderment. Even feeling suckerpunched is a reminder that we're alive and....finally feeling.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Madonna Adoption STILL Rankles

Still not convinced that Madonna's motivations to adopt are in the best interests of the child.

The tone of her explanation is still defensive and blaming the press is ridiculous. Surely she has a publicist or two? Surely someone on team Madonna might have predicted that the media would be interested in the spectacle of a 48-year old superstar traveling to poorest Africa to adopt an orphan. The problem wasn't the attention. It just wasn't the kind of attention she'd anticipated. Shame on her.

But most importantly, the language she chooses to use is still troubling. She continues to position herself as his rescuer...that she saved him from dying of pneumonia. All hard to argue with. The poor child might have died in that orphanage. But she could have "saved" him in a variety of other ways, including making it financially possible for father and son to reunite. She says she was told by the orphanage that his family had abandoned David, but certainly shrewd and savvy Madonna has heard rumblings about unscrupulous practices of orphanages. And wasn't she cautioned about the pitfalls of adopting in that particular country? What of her personal responsibility in this matter? And what prospective adoptive parent gets to CHOOSE a particular child as she did? She says fame and money did nothing to hurry the process, but it looks like she was able to SELECT a particular baby.

Madonna still seems intent on selling us her vision of third world adoption: parent as savior/rescuer. Get past that quick. In the best interest of the child.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Please Sir, May I Have A Bit More Space?

Some people, like my adoptive father, take up a BIG space. They demand all the attention, do all the talking and all the emoting. The rest of us are bystanders to the drama...pushed to the corner where we nod and listen and react to "them." My adoptive mother was like that in a different way. When I was around ten and went in for surgery to remove a benign forehead cyst, it was she who was undone by a fit of nerves. I sent her home and stayed in the hospital by myself. It was calmer that way.

Certainly, there are plenty of biological parentified children out there. But is there something about being adopted that adds to the risk of becoming one? When couples adopt, there is an enormous hole in their lives that they are trying to fill. Often, after much loss and heartbreak. In a way, it seems that adoption itself - which is a very odd and complicated institution - by its very nature sets up the child as an emotional caretaker for adults. For their happiness and wellbeing and sense of "completeness" as a human being rests on one person. Of course, there are some amazing adoptive parents who seem to understand this - expressly verbalized or not - and grip the reins of parenthood and act that way...allowing their adopted child to be what they are...a child.

In any case, my adoptive parents lacked the education and the sensitivity and the EMPATHY and, as a result, as an adult I have a very warped view of space. How much I am allowed in the day-to-day world of interactions. Friends talk about themselves and their lives way more than I would dare. As soon as I open my mouth to talk, I begin to feel guilty. I am being too self-centered. Or, in my confusion about space, I talk too much...trying to cover up my discomfort. I am always trying to accomodate other people...their feelings...their needs...their schedules. Them first. Me last. "Oh no no no," I'm apt to say, "Whatever works for you." Perhaps it's a lack of sense combined with a lack of sense of me. Parentified children know who their parents are and what they want. What we want is not a part of the equation.

The great thing, when one is finally aware, is that this is a behavior that can be changed. I've outgrown the little space that was doled out to me back in the early sixties. Space inflation? When I called my dad last night, he dispensed with the "Hello" and "Are you are" and launched straight into reciting every single item he'd eaten that day. Of course, what I ate would be of no interest to him. Apparently, I'm supposed to be fascinated by his every meal and latest encounter with the toilet. While it's maddening, it's also useless to try and change that relationship because he can't change. But I can. Learning to emotionally detach and learning to take up a bit more space in my other relationships. A square inch is rather claustrophobic!

Friday, October 20, 2006


First, let's get the snarkies out of the way: Madonna Dearest: What were you thinking? You are soooo copying Angelina it's not funny. She could get away with it because she is, after all, an excellent actress and one of the first Hollywood celebs (Mia too far back to count) to hit third world countries in cargo pants and black baby Tees. Being the second to do so, even in a soft white cotton shirt is, well, being second and somehow less authentic.

Now having exorcised the evil snarkies, on to more important issues like: the best interests of the child. There's a whole lot of talk about amazing opportunities and saving him from a life of poverty, etc., etc., but is all that really necessary? No. The child..and the millions of others like him...need a good family...not necessarily a rich one. But more than anything, he will need - besides a warm bed and healthy food - TIME, LOVE, ATTENTION AND ABOVE ALL: ATTUNEMENT. Even if a home study was conducted surely no one expected the home of a megadiva such as Madonna not to pass.

But what of the diva herself? Has she read the literature on adoption issues? Why isn't she talking about how she has uniquely prepared herself to become a loving, educated adoptive parent instead of all this talk about saving a poor child from a life of poverty which is thinly veiled martryr speak??? Why isn't she grabbing hold of this issue and giving it a good shake? She could change the dialogue. She can't, I suspect, because she does not understand the impact of adoption and its life long consequences....to all parties: the child, her biological children and her marriage. If she truly understood the issue at hand, she'd be speaking less defensively...more positively...on what she can do emotionally for the baby.

"It is not an easy task to change an unwanted child into a wanted child. This challenge is, however, exactly the task faced by adoptive parents. They must convey to their adopted child that, although he was born to other parents who did not want him, he is now their beloved child and shall always remain so." (Adoption from the Inside Out: A Psychoanalytic Perspective by Paul Brinich)

People who exhibit narcisstic tendencies strike me as less than ideal candidates to become adoptive parents. Empathy is required. And how will Madonna later explain to David that he was not unwanted. Indeed, that his father was living at the time of his placement and had been regularly visiting him? I suspect the boy will have a hard time of it either now, later or both. Does Madonna realize that while the event may be a happy one for her, the child - over a year - will be distressed and grieving?

The boy doesn't have all his teeth yet and ignorant people around the world are weighing in and saying how lucky he is...strong predictors that he'll be the recipient of other idiotic remarks like how grateful he should be and if you go back to Africa to search for your roots, how disloyal that will be to the Madonna who saved you. Most of us adoptees hear those kinds of messages even when our parents are regular folk. Imagine how big the societal burden of gratitude will be placed on poor David?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

My Own Personal Saint

While digging through a box of old (adoptive) family photos, I found a harvest gold photo wallet that belonged to my mother. In it were pictures of me ranging in age from one month to around 12 when I became less compliant, she more disappointed and all hell began to break loose. The last picture wasn't of me. It was a highly romantized illustration of a pretty little boy wearing a plumed hat, a short dark cape and huarache sandals. In one hand is a basket and in the other a staff with...what?...a water gourd? And then I remembered him. That boy. My friend from childhood. My grandmother had an alter to him in her tiny East Los Angeles home. His statue sat on top of a dark wood bureau surrounded by some material and when I visited her, she asked me to light a candle, kneel before him and say a prayer. This grandmother could not speak a word of English but I got the impression that the little boy would protect me. Or maybe that's what he was trying to tell me with his sweet face and kind eyes.

But why was his picture at the end of the photo wallet starring me? Who was he? I couldn't remember. Maybe I never knew his name. It's that way with some of us indifferent Catholics. We pray because we are ordered to, not knowing whether it's to a saint or some obscure version of the Virgin Mary. All I know is I liked this little boy and that I felt good afterward.

It took me two days to find out. I could have figured it out sooner if I'd noticed the microscopic script at the bottom of the illustration: El Santo Nino De Atocha. He is the child Jesus dressed as a small Spanish pilgrim boy with an impeccable reputation as a miracle worker...also widely known as....Patron of the Desamperados or, in English, the "abandoned."

Coincidence? That an adopted child...one probably perceived by her adoptive mother and grandmother as abandoned and not relinquished by her birthmother...had her very own personal saint? I really don't think so. And even though I've lapsed in the most major and fundamental way a Catholic can lapse, I feel a real honest fondness and connection to El Santo Nino de Atocha. In fact, he now gazes at me from the cover of my notebook...right next to the Virgin de Guadelupe. Maybe he will guide me to better writing. He is, after all, a miracle worker. And some days, being adopted is filled with a sense of isolation that only the abandoned can feel.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Week in Glasses

Goofed reordering contacts so forced to wear glasses for the last week. My husband says I look kinda sexy in them, which goes to show you what a great guy he is because, even though the frames are made in Italy they are, after all, nerdy black plastic rectangles.

But here's the thing. I'm getting to like wearing my dorky glasses.

They have almost magical, transformative powers.

As we adoptees know, many of us have a wobbly sense of self. But suddenly, I feel more real. More present. More me. A firmer sense of self.

This morning, as I dragged my nervous 80 pound black lab past the mummies, skelatons and witches that seemed to pop up overnight in neighborhood gardens, it occurred to me that wearing glasses was a bit like wearing a Halloween mask. In my glasses, I am the woman who likes to read and write and who spent the summer of her 22nd year happily digging dinosaurs in the badlands of Southern Alberta. I am slightly nerdy, which my daughters are happy to point out, even if I do wear stylish clothes. Sometimes, I even snort when I laugh.

The glasses just seem to reinforce that image...which isn't a bad one. It means I'm smart (or at least like to think I am) and that I have certain values and those glasses seem to make that announcement. It doesn't matter if my adoptive parents never willingly picked up a book in their lives and don't know the difference between "there" and "their." I do. In my glasses, I'm more confident in greeting my unfriendly blond neighbor. In fact, so confident I didn't bother to say hello...which is something she rarely does and when she manages it does so grudgingly. This neighbor has a way of making me feel bad but not in my glasses. In fact, social interactions seem easier. I am me in my glasses. I am distinct from the other person.

Slightly worrisome is the idea that the glasses may be some kind of crutch...providing a false sense of self. But maybe, in this case, it's like wearing a yellow post-it with reminders of who I am. Maybe more of us adoptees need something like magic glasses...something a little extra in which to face the world...a little body armor to make up for what we seem to lack. Maybe wearing nerdy glasses isn't such a bad thing after all.