Archive for the ‘Adoption Politics’ Category


22 Feb

I insisted to my parents that we should go to GOA’L. This is an organization that helps adoptees. I wanted to get them a translator so when we met Appa, they could understand what he was saying. I thought this would help. And since the translation was free, I thought this would be a good idea.

What I didn’t realize was that my mom was getting more and more wound up. After asking my brother to meet Appa, and after I had started to act more and more Korean with a lot of effort, exchanging cultural notes. She became a lot stiffer. And since she became a lot stiffer, my Dad had a compulsion to protect her from everything, including me and my brother, even if it meant alienation.

So when I asked them to come to GOA’L with me to pick up a translator, I think this broke my Mom. My mom who really didn’t want to face the fact that her children had to be shared with someone she had never met. She had to meet other adoptees like me and confront the fact that she took children from another person. GOA’L seemed to represent that for her–all the issues that she never faced in the adoption were sitting right in front of her.

The nearer we got to GOA’L and the more I was happy to finally find the place from the subway station, the more my mom stiffened. She seemed to hate this country that was stealing her children, only her children one by one. What if on this trip, I decided to stay? I could feel that come from her. A desperation and an anger that we were leaving her, despite the fact we’d been adults and found a place in the world, she could not deal with it.

So by the time we got to GOA’L, she was so stiff in the chair and her back so straight that it was visible that she really didn’t want to be there. As the person there talked to us, (I know his name, but I’m trying to be fair), and talked more about adoption, the loss, gave us maps, the more I could see that she was breaking. And he talked about how I’d talked to him before and I could feel a wave rising within her. She was about to break. I tried to signal him that it was not the best thing to talk right now about adoption issues.

I calmly called my brother and got him the information and got them the translator after coordinating with my mom. I knew at this point that it was going to blow up, deep inside of me, but at the same time, I wanted to believe that even for a second they could handle this–they could handle facing my adoption, the country that they adopted from and one of the languages of my heart. I wanted to believe it so hard and tried so hard to believe it hat I was willing to delude myself that it wasn’t going to blow up.

I could feel my mom saying that I couldn’t leave today. The same air of control I felt from my last boyfriend sprung up and I knew it wasn’t going to be alright.


The Silence

23 Feb

When I was little there were times that I was forbidden to speak about various topic with just a glare or just a few words.

The first time I was forbidden was when I wanted to ask my Aunt about her son–the one she gave up for adoption. I wanted to ask her about adoption and what it was like to give birth. Because I couldn’t remember anything before I was adopted at the time. My mom pulled me aside and said that I shouldn’t ask those questions. When I asked why she fell silent and didn’t explain. I think in retrospect, my mom minded more than my aunt did, since my Aunt answered my innocent question.

The second matter that was not to be discussed was race. Anything to do with teasing, being singled out was not to be talked about. It was fine when we were talking about equal rights for *other* people, but if I brought up the fact that I could only see Asian people on television and count them with one hand, my mom would frown at me. Then she would tell me that Asians simply didn’t want to be on TV because that was the culture and if I decided to be an actress, not only would I get prejudice from whites, but also Asians too. I don’t know how conscious she was about those words and their impact on me. In those words she said she would not support artistic endeavors I would have. The only reason she liked me going to acting classes was because she got free tickets to that theater, which is why I think she made it as hard as possible on me not to get into another acting class that was more advanced. Eventually I quit and went into the more selfish hobby of writing.

The third matter was the true nature of adoption–which was the loss for me and my Korean parents.

All through this, my mom would say I had a right to meet my Korean parents. I really thought that she really wanted that for me. I really thought she could handle it, so when I was old enough, she sent a letter to find out about Eomma, though I was far more interested in Appa, since he was a man I had held onto all those years. My Dad stayed out of all the adoption issues and the culture. But as I and my brother got deeper into Korea, my Mom showed signs of being able to handle it less and less. I learned Korean, which compelled my brother to also learn Korean and then try to one up me. We both learned Japanese–though for different reasons. And then my mom would call me up compulsively, it seemed like to remind me that it was Hannukah today.

So when I met Appa through Skype, she started to flip out. She called me every five minutes. When I didn’t answer, she got my Dad to call me every five minutes–not realizing how unhealthy this was. Then the phone calls would stop for a month as if she were punishing me for not answering her phone calls, then they would resume every five minutes for weeks until it drove me literally nuts. My therapist worked hard with me to try to deal with this behavior. I sent my mom e-mails which me and the therapist would work on for the entire time we were together, trying to tweak the language to get my mom to understand.

I couldn’t understand how when I asked permission to find Appa and Eomma and my extended Korean family that my mom said yes, happily. But now it was falling apart before my eyes. I really couldn’t handle it, so I sought therapy, because I was beginning to hallucinate from the stress of trying to deal with my Mom’s issues, Appa’s issues and my brother’s issues. It was falling apart.

I worked super hard for a year before the trip to try to iron out some of my codependence and some of my inability to let go of the control I was trying to exhibit towards my family because it was falling apart. And because I thought I should really, really give a chance to my mom to show her there was a way out. That calling me obsessively was not helping the situation. I needed tools to cope and probably because I knew in some ways that the relationship was falling apart–not because of the adoption so much, but because my mom took exception to the adoption and never faced any of the issues that our adoption exacerbated.

And because we never talked about adoption, I tried to get the ball rolling with it because my therapist said that it was a good idea. I really tried, to the point of breaking. I tried and tried, but by the time I left the GOA’L building, I knew she would never really face the fact that my brother and I were adopted in her hearts of hearts and what that really meant–because inside of herself the issues she never dealt with–her infertility, the prejudice, the teasing, being left alone with a depressed mother were too great and our adoption just reminded her just that little bit more about those hurts. Beneath all those hurts, she had still not defined herself without them.

And next, we could not talk about her infertility and how that influenced our adoption–if my mom didn’t forbid it, my Dad did because he was there to always rescue her and take her side against us.

Thus, when we went to building 63, it was a compound of her fear of Korea, adoption, me, my brother, and loss of control. I got that, but I couldn’t stop hurting as she pushed the very identity I worked hard to regain away. And maybe this is the point where the relationship between us went beyond repair.

The forbidden words killed our communication and eventually our relationship. Because the silence permeated all in its wake leaving hurt behind instead of healing.

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Posted in Adoption Politics, Parenting, Parents


Building 63

24 Feb

When I was young I set myself up to be the emotional punching bag so my brother wouldn’t have to deal with it. I put myself into harm’s way for him because I had sworn from the time I was four that I would protect him no matter what. I took the blame for a lot of things that wasn’t my fault. I was the one that yelled at my parents for equal rights in the house. I was the one that attracted my mom’s attention at the end of her bad day. She yelled at me and I let her do so because I knew if it wasn’t me, then it would be my brother and I couldn’t let her do that. Because though I didn’t remember, I had promised Appa and myself that I would do that.

But by now my brother was grown and teaching in Korea. He was doing well for himself, and we exchanged gifts and had our own way of communicating, which sometimes drove my mom nuts. Seeing him again was like clicking and he avoided my mom the best he could. Their relationship has never been that great to begin with, but my mom was in deep denial.

So today was the day we were without him. We’d gone to GOA’L and that did not make my mom happy. What had changed was that now I had training to let my brother grow up now that he was an adult and to protect himself and that I was to no longer shield him and take my mom’s crap. This was a work in progress because my mom was used to being able to control the situation and me, now I was in a position to know more than her.

Ajumma dropped us off at the building 63. I brought a camera with me, but I really needed to go to the bathroom. I went to the bathroom and went up the elevator, but I realized that I forgot my camera in the bathroom, so I went back down to get it. I could see the flash of a frown from my mom as I had forgotten. I expected my Mom to get upset at me, but then she didn’t look me in the eyes and said, Go get it. I felt a storm building up. I did not flinch and was responsible.

I ran into the bathroom and in Korean I said, “camera” which is just “camera” in konglish… and then the lady said, “What did you lose?”

I said, “My Camera was here…”

She said, “Ahh Camera.” Then after her help, I got it.

I had to buy another ticket to go back up the tower, and when I showed it to the lady at the gate, she said roughly, “You can’t go up, only one per day.”

So I went to look for my cellphone. I found I forgot it in the car, so I breathed, calmed down and looked for someone to help. To the ajussi at the desk I said in English, “Help.” I ended up explaining in Korean later, but my intuition said that he needed English first. I think it was some part of me telling me that for my parents, he’d have to speak English. Preparing him was good. So I had him call my parents and I calmly told them I couldn’t go back up and that I would wait for them. I requested one picture from my Dad that I knew was wanted… and waited.

I think I was flinching by then. I knew it was coming–my mom was about to throw a tantrum. They came down and I explained the situation. My mom was not liking it one bit. I could feel my mom becoming upset at me losing the first ticket to go up the tower. But her anger was swallowed again. I felt it again.

They, being in a foreign country and frustrated wanted the 9,000 won back. That’s less than 9 bucks… maybe something like 8.50 (at the time of the purchase). I told them that it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t that much, but they didn’t listen to me.

They were used to ignoring me unless I was there to emotionally punch around. But this time I was not going to let it slide.

My Mom was getting frustrated at the attendant for not speaking English. Her voice was rising So I gently elbowed her since she was not listening to me at all (I had said to my Dad four times, cellphone.). That’s NOT how you get your money back in Korea. In Korea, you have to stay calm to get your money back. It was clear that the ticket agent was not at fault.So I gently elbowed my mom to stop because she was going to take out all of the Day’s frustration on that ticket agent who cannot speak English. I could see the ticket agent flinching already so I intervened. My mom flipped out, this time at me. She overreacted. “Do not hit me.” in the “I am such a victim voice”

I took her crap because the person she really was mad at was me. How dare I take her to an adoption advocacy group? How dare I lose a camera? How dare I shield my fellow country person and take her side against my own mother. My own mother because she did not want to share me with anyone else–not a country full of people, not with Appa, and she wanted to claim me.

She screamed, “Don’t hit me.” And then she started to belittle me in the hall right there in front of everyone. So I met her eyes and started to back her down, trying to gain control of what I had learned in therapy.

Then she started to go off… I yelled back at her, “Don’t victimize me.” but my Dad intervened. I thought that he was going to actually help, like he had done a little in the past, but he made things so much worse. He said to me, “You do not hit your mother.” I felt hurt and betrayed that he’d seen the whole thing and he immediately put the whole blame on my head. That everything that my mom was feeling was my fault. Her insecurities, her fears, everything was my fault–down to the ticket. But I calmed myself down, trying hard not to cry harder at the feeling of loss and betrayal. The thought lingered in my head, “Why did they want to really adopt?” But I swallowed that too.

I finally asked for a cellphone from one of them–I don’t remember which and started to dial the number, but my hands shook so much that I couldn’t type in the number right. My eyes were blurring so hard at being blamed and yelled at for such a thing. But at the same time, I really didn’t think that the person behind the counter deserved the crap my mom wanted to dish out to her based on some stupid stress relief–I’d worked in customer service and I knew how sucky that was.

I finally got in touch with the person I was calmly looking for and asked if they still wanted help. When my mom, the instigator said no, (because she was sulking) I said in Korean that we were done. Then explained that it was OK to pick us up.

I could see in my mom’s eyes, “Don’t you dare become one of them.” And when I said that I was operating in Korean culture everything hit the fan. My Mom and Dad started to tag team me for everything. They started yelling at me in turns like I was the enemy.

My Dad would take over and tell me that I was wrong. So I firmed my mouth and said, “Then tell her that she’s wrong too–tell her that she has no right to ostracize someone over Nine bucks. Tell her that she overreacted.”

But he couldn’t stop telling me how wrong I was and then got two inches into my face and started yelling at me. I was fed up. I had always counted on him a little to be an ally and try to patch things, but I realized in that moment that no matter how hard I tried that he would always side with her–he wasn’t trying to understand what I did or didn’t do. He would not tell her that she was wrong. I was dehumanized, which was only compounded by years of trying to fight for my humanity as an adoptee. My belief in him died. He started to talk for her, but I could feel him venting his frustration on me.

Then my mom got two inches from my face and started talking down to me. So I said, “I will leave if you are going to treat me this way.”

She got even more upset. “You’re going to leave?” I said, “Yes.” Then my dad intervened again. I told him, this is between me and her not you and me. My mom got more upset. Her speaker had been silenced. I let her talk after she calmed down.

She presented the problem twice, but no solution. I forced her to make a solution. But I couldn’t believe her, because the walls around her were so thick and many at that moment it was scary. My dad when he was talking to me was further away. I’d tried to engage him before in front of my mom, but for the first time ever, he did not engage. His eyes did not light up. Pride did not show up. You have no idea how scary that is. Before he did not care. His true self would shine through, but not this time.

I tried to go into denial about the event and forget it, but it lingered long after the trip because it made me realize their true feelings towards the country, my adoption and me. I felt like I was only there for their emotional release of all the bad things they experienced. And whatever feelings they had towards my brother leaving the US, Korea, adoption, their infertility, or stress of the time and place, they were so used to taking out all their crap on me and my brother.

This event broke my heart because by this time I couldn’t undo any Koreanness they thought was a threat or undo any of the relationships I’d built. I couldn’t fix it and I was heartbroken that they could not accept Korea for the other half of who I was. It was building on the list of forbiddens, but I wasn’t allowing it to sit there. I was sick of being silent around issues that formed why I was with them in America. I couldn’t stand it anymore.

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Posted in Adoption Politics, Search and Korea Trip


Why did you adopt me?

25 Feb

I often wondered at that time after Building 63 if my mom’s reasons for adopting me were as she told me, “Because it was cheap and we knew other people who had done it.” Even if I corrected that and told her the hateful things she said during my childhood about my adoption, I couldn’t really understand why she would do it.

The infertility we were forbidden to talk about, I knew that a lot of the loss and reasons she did the adoption was because she didn’t have a choice. I think in her heart of hearts she still wanted the child I could never become and I ultimately replaced. But to me, that was not a good enough reason to adopt.

She said a few times the reason she adopted was because my Aunt already had children–and it must have been painful for my mom to know that my Aunt could get pregnant and so quickly while she never could. My grandmothers didn’t help either, and often pressured her for children. She also told me that my Dad wanted children. But everything in her behavior told me that she really didn’t want children. She’s stiff around children and sometimes I can feel a resentment from her. Maybe a lost childhood to a mother that criticized her when she was out of bed and then depressed for the rest of the time.

My mom would irrationally compete with me as well, which I never understood. It was like a score board for her–I never understood the competition she tried to put forth in absolutely everything. My skin was darker, one point for me. My eyes were Asian, one point against me. I got along with her mother and put a lot of effort into understanding her mother, one point for me. I didn’t allow my mom to tell me not to wear jeans to her mother’s place. One point against me. A constant score board of extremes.

So when I pointed out the evils of adoption–because nothing is inherently good or bad, she wouldn’t accept it. One point against me.

By the end of Building 63, I wondered really heavily why they really adopted me. Was it really the obligation that my mom felt towards fulfilling other people’s wishes? After the trip I wrote her a letter pointing this out and cried when she never said the words I wanted to hear so much, “I wanted you. I wanted you in my life.” I ruthlessly deleted the e-mail and blocked her because I couldn’t deal with it.

An obligation. An annoyance. A duty. I felt all those things from her. I felt that me and my brother were there for show. Like little dolls for her to parade and then when we were inconvenient we were filed away for later use. I struggled against her walls to try to understand why she was like this. But when I got to her core, I found a mountain of fear and walls surrounding the fear. She didn’t know who she was and finding it out was not an option for her.

Despite understanding all this pain, and in doing that forgiving her for her shortcomings, I could not stop hurting. I struggled against my thoughts of Eomma and made sure to separate them out. I struggled hard to understand my Mom and why she would not accept her larger self–the mother and her father before her. And the events as they told them. And accept in a way that did not make her a victim, but made her wiser.

I also tried to understand my Dad and why he had become that codependent on her. I realized that he resented me a lot–maybe subconsciously, because while I was deflecting for my brother I was also deflecting for him (by accident) and now that I was not around, she was using all that nervous energy of not knowing who she was in a country that would not allow her marijuana to calm her down, she was using him in the way she used me. I quit being the punching bag.

I wondered why he wanted children with her if he knew she couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t get rid of the doubts I had about the reasons they adopted and I started to question if their love was true love. Especially when they would not allow me to refer to them to what they were to me, my Mom and Dad. They called each other to me by their names instead. I found that hateful and I couldn’t get past it.

Why did you adopt me if you wanted me for just a tool or an object to one up a person that is not going to raise me? I thought it was for love. I thought you wanted a family more than anything. Why can’t you answer that way? Why can’t you say that no matter what you wanted me and really mean it without me prompting it out of you? I started thinking those doubts where I had none before and I could not stop asking those questions to myself even if I couldn’t ask them. The silence ruined everything.

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