Last week a newspaper reporter visited the 5th grade at our children’s school and talked with them about writing feature articles. Now, the students are working on writing their own feature articles. JMan decided to write an article about Messi. You may ask, who is Messi?
JMan would answer…Messi, you know, MESSI! To him, it is preposterous to think that anyone would have not heard of Messi. For those of you who may be adopting an older boy from Colombia, Messi is a household name there.
Which is why, when I posted this picture of JMan playing soccer, his best friend in Colombia (yes, I’m friends on Facebook with an 11 year old boy who lives in Medellin, Colombia) commented, “Miro Messi” or “watch Messi”. JMan knew right a way that this was a big compliment from a good friend.
So, who is Messi? Leo Messi is from Argentina and plays futbol (aka soccer) for Barcelona. He is arguably the best player in the world. Some say the best player ever. Search on youtube for Messi’s greatest goals (one of JMan’s favorite pastimes) and you will see why. Leo Messi is in a word, amazing!
That is why, as JMan discovered in his searching, that Leo Messi was going to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine (the first soccer player ever on its cover). I told JMan I would go to the bookstore today to make sure I got a copy for him. Here is the cover I was looking for…
I scanned the shelves where I thought it should be but wasn’t seeing it. I looked and looked some more and finally, there it was, Time Magazine…
Apparently, JMan had missed the fine print which stated that Messi was going to be on the cover of Time Magazine everywhere it is sold but North America. It seems that Time thought this cover would sell better in the U.S. It’s unfortunate that Time didn’t take this opportunity to expose Americans (at least those who have never heard of Messi) to a man much of the world considers to be one of the greatest athletes of all times. Plus, bummer for our boy who was looking forward to seeing Messi on the cover.
I think what is most offensive to me about this “joke” is how casually it is passed through emails and shared on Facebook with absolutely no regard for the negative message it sends to adoptees. More frustrating are the responses that follow when someone shares that maybe it is offensive. The most recent one I read was “get over it, it’s just a joke”.
Really?!?! Get over it!?!?
The first time I saw this lovely “joke” was actually in an email our 13-year-old daughter received from one of her friends. I won’t lie about her initial response…she laughed. She laughed and my heart sank. Luckily, I was sitting right next to her and was able to ask her a few simple questions. What message does this send about adoption and adoptees? Would you send this to your brother? How do you think he would feel if he received that same email? She was genuinely upset when she realized the implications of this “joke” and even our 13-year-old is mature enough to see the insensitivity in responding with, “get over it”.
This insensitivity to the feelings and experiences of adoptees is so widespread. JMan’s very first week of school here in the US, he brought home a “Name Story Assignment”. I found it shoved down in the bottom of his backpack (our son is very organized so my radar went up right away). Specifically, the paper said,
Name Story Assignment
Interview members of your family to find out additional details about your name. You can ask questions about why you were named as you were, what other names were considered, and who ended up picking out your name.
In addition to the information that others can tell you about your name, gather your own ideas about your name by writing about these questions:
- How do you feel about your name?
- How do others respond to your name?
- If you could pick out your own names, what would you select?
A friend of mine, who happens to be a teacher called shortly after and I told her about the assignment and was venting about how upset I was. Her response, “He is going to have to learn to deal with these things”.
Basically…..”Get Over It!”
Yes, JMan does need to learn how to deal with the insensitive comments and attitudes about adoption that are pervasive in our country. I feel that is part of my job as his mom, to help him learn that valuable lesson. However, I do not believe that my son should have to face these huge feelings and emotions at school in front of his friends.
I called and left his teacher a message about JMan’s feelings toward this assignment. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a quick call back from his teacher who was in tears about making such a horrible mistake. She just had never thought about it that way before.
This is why it is extremely important for adoptive parents to be proactive advocates for adoptees and address how adoption related issues are handled in school before the insensitive assignments come home. I made the mistake of assuming that because JMan’s adoption was common knowledge at his school, I didn’t need to address this. Now that I am constantly on the look out for adoption insensitivity, it is hard to believe that other people aren’t thinking about it.
Our 11-year-old daughter, Boo, came to me with the same assignment later that evening. She wanted to ask me the questions but first she said, “When Mrs. G was talking about this assignment I thought about JMan. Does he have to sit and listen to everyone stories? That’s not fair to him. I’m afraid it will make him feel sad.” Like I said before, she is an old soul who loves her brother.
As adoptive parents, I feel it is so important that we educate others (friends, families and schools) about the implications of adoption insensitivity. At least I’ll be ahead of the game for 7th grade. One of our daughters just brought home this assignment….
I will be calling the school today. For some reason, I’m not expecting the same response I received from JMan’s teacher. I did find this resource online, Adoption Basics for Educators. I am going to request to meet with his 6th grade teachers this Spring to share this resource with them. Does anyone have any other materials or advice to share?
I love love love to hear our son speak Spanish! It is truly music to my ears. I think my heart actually melts when I listen to him. I wish I could record him speaking Spanish and play it here because I’m pretty sure every last one of you would fall instantly in love. (But I am a little partial)
JMan hadn’t called his most recent foster family in Colombia in about 3 months. We were encouraged by ICBF to end all contact with them while we were in Colombia. I couldn’t do it. He had lived with them, called them Mami and Papi, hermano and hermanas for over 3 years. Their home was the first place where our son felt loved and valued. Our family had communicated with them on a weekly basis for almost a year while we were waiting. My husband and I decided that we didn’t like the message it sent JMan if we were to drop all contact with the only family he has known for the past several years.
We were home for about a week when I explained to JMan that I didn’t agree with ICBF and thought he should be able to call his family in Colombia, if he wanted to. He said yes and called them about every 2 weeks for the first few months he was here. Suddenly, it was a like a switch was flipped and he did not want to call. In fact, he refused to call. I’m still not sure exactly why. I have pieced together from little comments he made that it may have been a combination of things…hurt feelings because an older foster brother asked for something instead of listening to him, a fear of not being able to speak Spanish as well as he used to, a need to fit in with our family and not feel different. Regardless of the reason, I continued to gently encourage him to call but I didn’t make him. I believed he had enough to worry about and I didn’t want him to feel obligated to provide someone else’s happiness.
Tonight, we were sitting together at the computer taking down the Facebook account he created at a friend’s house without our permission (example included to show that we are definitely not perfect and always a work in progress). After banishing him from Facebook, I popped on mine and his foster mother was online. I offhandedly encouraged him to send her a quick chat (fully expecting an adamant no) and was surprised to hear a halfhearted no. Seeing my window, I pulled up the chat box and said, “just say hi”. He did and she was slow to respond so I suggested we just call. And we did.
The decision to allow JMan to contact his family in Colombia was not an easy one. I had to let go of some of my fears as an adoptive mom. Selfish fears. The fear that he may love another mom more than me, the fear that he may realize he would rather be with that family, the fear that our family could never fill up his little heart. These are all valid fears but nothing compared to the loss and fear our son has experienced in his short life.
In the end, the call went through and JMan was passed all around. He didn’t forget his Spanish as he had feared and I realized that I had become attached to this family and missed them as well. We have a common bond…we all love this enchanting little man who is a master of stealing hearts.
Our house was filled with Spanish chatter this evening (we call their phone through Skype and we can all hear the whole conversion, including the barking dogs and Salsa playing in the background). It was music to my ears.
But not as much as the “Mom…I love you” that came with a hug after the call was over.
I have been thinking a lot about perspectives as I begin to really listen to the voices of adult adoptees. As an adoptive parent, it is sometimes difficult for me to discern how I should translate the experiences and opinions of this invaluable resource into my parenting. Each adoption is a unique situation and each child adopted into any family has their own unique personality and perspective. While most adult adoptees that I have listened to seem to share a universal feeling of deep loss and a strong urge to know where they come from, it is reactions to more specific adoption situations that seems to vary from adoptee to adoptee.
One of these specific situations is celebrating “Adoption Day”. I have read that many adoptees wish that their parents had not celebrated this day, that it only reminded them of the multiple losses they have experienced as a result of their adoption. On the other hand, a few adoptees wrote that they were glad their parents celebrated “Adoption Day” and they continue to acknowledge it in their own small ways as adults. This is where it becomes tricky as an adoptive parent, how do we know which perspective is the right one for our child? Both of these opinions are valid. To further complicate things, I feel that the voice of the adult adoptee who was adopted as an older child tends to be missing from some of the adoption discussions.
Our son was with us in court when he officially became a member of our family. The judge prepared a special letter for him that states how on that date he entered our family. It goes on to explain that as his parents it is our responsibility to care for him physically and emotionally while respecting his rights and recognizing his feelings and his history before he joined our family. Our son cherishes this letter and asked me to frame it and hang it on the wall in his room. Another adoptee may see this letter as a reminder that they are different from the rest of the family and not ever want to see it. It is all about perspective. I have a feeling JMan will want to celebrate (acknowledge might be a better word) that date because it was important to HIM. I think that is the key to gaining the right perspective in parenting our children. We need to insure that we are making decisions, after looking at all perspectives, in the best interest of what is right for our child (not what is right for us, as adoptive parents).
This dilemma of perspective also came up when reading comments on an adoptee web site I was reading. A father who adopted his daughter after she spent years growing up in the foster care system, posted a message about collecting backpacks and suitcases for children living in foster care. Many of the adoptees who commented were appalled that he would choose to focus his attention on something as trivial as suitcases when the problems with foster care are so much bigger. It is absolutely true that the problems with foster care are way bigger than suitcases but the discussion ended with this….
“I do know something about this very issue. I grew up in foster care. I lived in fourteen different foster homes, and two group homes before I was emmancipated at the age of 16. Out of those sixteen places, I moved to only one place with my things packed in anything but a black plastic trash bag. I am not sure what has changed in the system now. I have been out for eleven years. But one thing I do know, giving foster children luggage is a VERY good gesture. This is coming from someone who GREW UP in this system.
When my things were packed in trash bags, it sent a very clear message. That my things were not valuable, and I figured, if my things were not valuable than neither was I. I obviously do not see it that way now, but as a child, I didn’t have clarity in my thoughts. I literally thought that trash was about what my life amounted to and that is what the trash bags reinforced.
I am not saying that a duffle bag will fix a childs life. The trash message is sent to these children long before it is reinforced by trash bags. That is the truth. But dont underestimate what a small kind gesture can do. and on a last note, the trash bags hold such a connotation in my heart that I dont use them now. I use paper bags or put my trash directly in the dumpster because the trash bags remind me of that pain. Make fun of me or not, but that is the reality.
Just thought I would give the input of someone who has actually been through what you all are arguing about in a kind of a stupid manner considering you were not foster children yourselves. Don’t presume to know how someone feels unless you actually do.
And to the person who wrote the original post. Thank you for caring.”
What’s the right perspective? For the big issues, this is a much easier question. As an adoptive parent, we should listen to the voices of the adult adoptees to help guide us in insuring our children grow up confident as equal members of our family and society and to feel that they cannot only voice their opinions about being adopted but also that those opinions are valued. In my day to day parenting I hope to keep this overriding perspective in mind while also remembering that perspective changes depending on where you are standing and adoptive parents need to try to always keep focus on what is most important, the needs of their individual child.
Well, as far as labels go…I’ve been a mom of multiples, a mom of all girls and now an adoptive mom of our son from Colombia. I’ve been married for 15 years and have 5 kids. Our oldest are 13 year old identical twin girls. For the sake of privacy, we’ll call them Bird and BoBass. Bird loves lacrosse and science while BoBass prefers soccer and art. They are both turning into teenagers right before my eyes (yikes!) and both have an empathy for others that makes me think maybe we are doing something right (or at least more right than wrong). Next comes 12 year old JMan, our only son, adopted from Colombia at age 11. He loves soccer and school (thank goodness!) and his inner joy is contagious. He is confident and fun-loving, constantly making us laugh with his sharp wit. Close behind is Boo, our 11 year old daughter. She loves dance and is a serious student. She is an old soul but has found her silly side, entertaining the family by dressing up and directing her little sister and sometimes her brother . And little sister, she’s 6. We’ll call her The Diva (that’s what her sisters and brother would say). The Diva loves everything and everyone (seriously!). She sings and dances her way through life while trying to keep up with Big Sisters and Big Brother. I’m Mom and along with Dad, I am guiding these littles through their childhood (without a map, but not afraid to ask for directions) and trying to teach them to….be kind, be silly and be honest.
About this Blog
This is my second blog endeavor. My first blog began as an advocacy tool for older children who needed families. It than became a place for me to document our adoption journey and trip to Colombia to adopt our son. During the adoption process, I did a lot of reading (books, blogs and whatever I could get my hands on). Looking back, almost everything I read was written from the perspective of adoptive parents or professionals, not adult adoptees. I’ve just begun to delve into reading the experiences, opinions and advice of adult adoptees and I’m excited to share what I’m learning and how I am trying to keep these perspectives in mind while raising our son.
I have also been thinking more about the issues that come along with being a transracial family. When our son first joined our family, it was more about making sure he was comfortable and adjusting to this unfathomable (for me!) change for him and how he was attaching to us and his sisters. At that time, my thoughts were consumed with our family’s adjustment. Our social worker once described adding a child to a family (by birth or adoption, in or out of birth order) as adding another piece to a mobile. The mobile will shift and turn until it finds its balance again. I love this imagery because right now we have a pretty nice balance going on but at any moment a breeze could blow and the shifting and moving affects the whole family.
While the air is calm, I’m trying to learn all I can about raising children in a transracial family, respecting the rights and feelings of our son and educating those around us about these same issues. I’m by no means an expert. This blog is just a place for me to write about my experiences and thoughts…use at your own risk .
Those of you who found this blog because you visited my previous blog may be wondering why the change. There are two main reasons for this change of focus. First, my previous blog began as a tool to advocate for specific older children growing up without families by sharing pictures and glimpses of their personalities, making a point to insure that they were seen as individuals and not just an “orphan”. Both of these children have since been adopted, one of them into our family. While I didn’t share any of their history on the blog, I still feel that part of their lives is for them to share when and if they chose to. So, the first reason for the change is privacy. I will still share my thoughts and some stories from my perspective but I will not be using my children’s names or pictures of their faces (but trust me….they are all adorable!). This is a personal decision and I am not making a statement about what others should do.
The second reason is as simple as, life changes. Our family is in a different place now and therefore my focus needs to shift as well. I have been reading a lot about transracial adoption and the perspectives of adult adoptees on the many issues surrounding adoption. I will be honest and admit that I did not read the blogs of adult adoptees before our adoption, but now I believe it should be mandatory to read through some of them if you are a prospective adoptive parent, especially when adopting trans-racially. As with anything in life, it is important to look at issues from all perspectives available. I will elaborate on this more on the “About” page.
One thing that will not change is my focus on advocating for older children growing up without families. While my eyes have been opened to the need to put more focus on programs and changes that will help to avoid children leaving their families in the first place, I still believe there is a place for adoption and that children should not have to grow up without a family.