Friday, November 23, 2012

Love, not labor

[I wrote this 2 years ago at a different blog. More true now, more true everyday. Reading who I was then, reflecting on the changes and the constants. Happy holiday season to you all.]

So. Today I was conversing (via email) with a colleague and mentioned that I will be taking the kids on a 10 day road trip in a couple weeks. I may have used the words bleary-eyed and dread. He replied “Take it from me, these are the good old days.” Keep in mind, about 80% of my colleagues are at least 10 years older than me, if not 20 years. But it got me wondering… why do people assume I’m not thrilled about my daily work?

Most people who find out that I have 4 kids say “wooooow.” Then they find out my kids’ ages (3-8) and they are like “WOOOOWWWW.” I can usually sense a bit of awe, pity, and disbelief in their response. Some edge away slowly as if I might be contagious.

(This is usually followed up with “wow, you don’t look old enough to have kids!” or “oooh, you really have your hands full.” I get it people, I look like a 12 year old and you don’t know what else to say. No need to say anything really. We’re not freaks because we have 4 young kids.)

I love this crazy life. It confuses people that I would love it so. But really – I know how babies are made, and the adoption was no accident either. True, I had originally planned a very different life. In my early adult years, I was never going to marry or parent. I would travel the world, join the Peace Corps, live in exotic huts, learn new languages and have huge adventures all the time. But I fell in love, and losing a life with that man was a far worse prospect than losing a life of adventurous solitude.

And it just so happened that we’re as fertile as the Nile, and for some reason God trusted us with children. I have discovered myself in the parenting of these children. On my worst parenting day, I am a better human than I was on any of my best pre-parenting days. I am more complete. I am accomplishing something. Where I once viewed the domestic life as being desperately mired and bound, I now understand as being gloriously grounded and connected. Indeed, this family has given me wings. They are my legacy.

Our life is hectic and chaotic. It’s like a constant cloud of moving kids and noise follows wherever I go. Someone is always fighting with someone else. Someone is always hungry. Someone is always covered in dirty, wet, or sticky. If it’s not a spilled drink or busted forehead or skinned knee or puking kid/pet, it’s a Sharpie on the wall or broken plate or toy needing new batteries or dog stealing someone’s dinner. (Usually it’s my Wild Thing, all of those simultaneously. He has a special talent, that one.)

Yes, we also have 3 large dogs. With lots of black, brown, and white dog hair. Keeping the house clean is so! much! fun!

I work extraordinarily hard to keep our family happy. I lose sleep, am constantly cleaning, and never have time for myself. My family gets the best of me, and my career gets the leftovers. But you know what? That doesn’t mean that I get nothing for myself. The biblical principles are so true: love begets love. Kindness begets kindness. Energy begets energy.

This isn’t to say that I don’t struggle sometimes. That I don’t want to be left alone, or that they don’t drive me crazy, or that I don’t come dangerously close to my limits. But I have a choice. When the kids do something “bad,” I can respond with anger or with love. I can punish or I can teach. I can scream or I can communicate. Each day is a fresh struggle to make the right choices.

This weekend, my Junebug created original artwork just for me. My Stitch told me repeatedly that I am her best buddy. My Martian Child sang “Bacon Bacon Bacon” by “Justin Beaver” who is “the best singer ever.” My Wild Thing, with his chubby red cheeks and sweet dimpled fingers, slept in my arms.

They don’t exhaust me – they give me energy. I know people who can’t wait for their kids to grow up and leave home. They are literally doing the countdown – ugh, 8 more years until they’re out of my house! Truth told, I am terrified of a day without children to care for. Being a mom is such a huge part of my identity that it’s hard to see past these days of parenting. I adore these little people beyond my capacity to articulate. I keep thinking – only 10 years until my firstborn leaves me. Once she is gone, only 5 short years later my youngest will be a man. And then what will I do? Who will I be?

Of course, that’s another topic for another day. I do look forward to the day my children are men and women – when their desire for my companionship will exceed their need for my parenting. But now, looking at their tiny hands and feet, listening to their childish voices saying the goofiest kid things, I want to freeze time. I have felt a sense of urgency about the passage of time since my Junebug was a baby. Each day that passes, I feel that I am losing them. I am near frantic in my desire to hold on to their youth (or for that matter, my own – that too is another topic for another day).

In the daily tedium, I hope they can sense the vastness of my love for all four of them. I hope that they can forget the moments of impatience and even anger, to recognize how I passionately I adore them. Do they know? Can they see? I never want these good old days to end. I don’t want the quiet; I don’t need the rest. I just need armfuls of wriggly, giggly, lovable monkeys.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Dot connected

This will seem so obvious after I've explained it.  In actuality, it never dawned on me until tonight to make the connection.

Several years ago, there was a famous case in the state where I live.  A young girl had been abducted, molested, and then buried alive.  That story ran in the news for several months, and would recur every time there was a break in the case.  Eventually the perpetrator was caught, tried, convicted, and now serves a long prison sentence.  Every aspect of the story was awful, but there was one particular detail that captured my imagination in the worst way.  I recall in one article, the journalist included the detail that the child had been buried alive with her stuffed dolphin.  That one image transported me  - suddenly I was underground with the girl, clinging to the dolphin, struggling to survive.  And waiting.  I imagined being that child, in that hole, clinging to hope that someone would save me.  That this wasn't the end.  And experiencing that awful realization that no one was going to save me.

In another news story, a stalker had kidnapped two children from the same family.  Again, done awful things to the children, and killing the boy in the process.  And again, my mind traveled to the experience of those children, living in their minds... hoping and trusting that they'd be returned to their safe world.  And living just long enough to lose hope of being saved.

This experience happens over and over for me.  Every time I read or hear of a child in these horrendous situations, my imagination consistently takes me to the same moment - the time when they realize that hope is lost.

To children, parents are trustworthy.  Parents always make things better.  Parents always save the child.  But sometimes parents don't.  And in each of these situations, that is the awful experience I have always identified with - the moment when the child realizes the parent won't save them.  The parent is not coming for them.  Everything is not going to be okay.

I never made the connection before - why that is the single point of experience that my imagination returns to.  Now I realize, that is part of my world.  That happened first, and then everything happened after.  For all those people out there who think that adoptees make too much of being separated from their original families, they will never understand how deeply that alters a child's world view.  How unsafe and untrustworthy the world becomes.  To children, parents are truth and safety.  When removed from parents, truth and safety no longer exist.  That's a hard lesson to outgrow.

I avoid the news now.  It's suffocating to relive that over and over again.  It would drive a person insane.

***Edited to add:  A friend asked me: do you think these children lost hope?  Or did they die still hoping?  I don't know, but that is how it always happens in my mind.  There are children who live long enough to lose hope, and that does kill a part of a person.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pervasive Loss

If you are a parent, imagine this: you have loved and nourished your child. When your child is age 2, you are their only concept of safety, love, family, validation. They have no concept of self apart from you. And then one day, you drop them in a public place - Grand Central Station, or LAX - and walk away forever. When you walk away, so does everything your child knows of safety, love, family, validation, and self.

Maybe it seems like I dwell on my abandonment too much, maybe it seems like self-pity or whining. But from my perspective, that is the moment that has defined me so completely that it is the only key to taking the small steps to accepting the broken person I still carry inside.

Tonight I'm sitting at the playground watching my younger three children play. My oldest is practicing soccer on an adjacent field. It's a perfect, mild May evening and I'm a prosperous citizen of a free country. Career, friendships, family, and health are all in exquisite order. In short, I am living the dream.

Why then, is it in these moments of serendipity - when my world seems most pure and safe - that I feel most isolated? These moments when I should be happy, that instead I find myself guarded against the frailty of it all? I watch these golden days of happiness with a gratitude and fear borne from a primal knowledge of loss. There it is, then. Loss at the core and perimeter of all my perceptions.

I think of this as an emotional homelessness. A perpetual sense of losing, even when all leading indicators show that I'm winning. Of course, the reason is because I have already lost - family, country, language, name, identity. When your entire identity and life are predicated by loss, then a sense of loss invades and pervades, often in ways that we aren't even aware of. We spend our early lives feeling defective. We are sad when we should be happy. We grieve something we can't even remember, nor do we understand the nature of our grief.

I am by all outward definitions a successful person. You would never know that I am emotionally homeless unless I told you. I would not know unless I had a contemplative enough nature to realize it on my own. I can't say that all adoptees feel this way, at least not on a conscious level. But the fact is that the major defining event of my life happened at an age when I internalized without comprehension.

How can the same person write the previous two posts and this one? How can one be so seemingly serene and actualized, while being so sad and lost?

Because I am human, and emotions change. Because I am always walking forward, but sometimes I look back. Because I truly am transient and eternal, so the past and the future dwell inside the present moment.

This sense of isolation, latent fear, and emotional homelessness is not something that has to be fixed. It only needs to be understood, acknowledged, and accepted as the natural consequence of such profound early loss.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Already there

My heart tells me that a search would be the right thing to do.  Not only that, but as a biological mother I sense that a search would bring closure to not just myself, but possibly to others.  But there is something that has stopped me and for the moment, compels me to write.

Several months ago, as things were ramping up with the search and my trip to Korea was in the planning phase, a colleague suggested hypnotherapy.  He had done it once and was able to recall early childhood memories with clarity.  In his words, it was like he was there.  Intrigued, I asked some friends and got a referral.  If you know my story, you know that I was found by police (or so the story goes) at the age of 2, then remained in an orphanage until being adopted to the US at age 3.  So it seemed reasonable that early childhood memories could still be lying dormant in my dusty old subconscious.

So I went.  Two sessions.  My subconscious must have been like a coiled spring, ready to leap at any opportunity.  Memories flooded back - mostly just sensations but also some images and many emotions.  The therapist had advised that the images may not be accurate, but the sensations and emotions would be.  And this is what I found:  Stillness.  Resignation.  Security without joy.  Overwhelming sadness.  I looked into my mother's face, and it looked like mine.

Of course so much of these so-called memories are tainted by a life's worth of influences.  So much would be inaccurate, and yet I believe that there is truth even in the inaccuracies.  After the first successful session, I chose not to return.

It has taken many months for me to begin to understand why I wouldn't go back, why I wouldn't want more.  I still don't have a full grasp on it - me, who values the truth more than most anything, not wanting to uncover more?  But the problem - and solution - is this:  I realize I already have everything I need.  The truth is not somewhere in Korea, it lies in me.  Answers and knowledge would probably take me further away from the truth of my story, not closer to it.

In my faith, I am learning to release the illusions of control and permanence.  I am practicing the art of non-attachment which means to let go not only of one's notions, but to release one's emotions.  A friend paraphrases Pema Chodron often, and I frequently refer to this bit of wisdom:  You are the sky and emotions are just the weather.  They are neither good nor bad, nor are they permanent.  There are no emotions to fear or cherish, but all to be experienced in fullness.

Also, I'm learning to let go of desire.  Desire comes in so many forms - for material possessions, to be accepted by others, for distraction, for success, for self-validating love.  The problem with desire is that nothing satisfies it - desire always comes back for more.  Desire for the truth of my Korean family, I am realizing, will bring nothing but more desires.  Learning to find peace in the time and space right now - that is the real path to sustainable happiness.

This does not mean that I will never search, only that I must learn to let go of all expectations, attachment, fears, and desires about my families - Korean and American.  Only then could a search be completed with a healthy outcome, whether it results in answers or not.  And at that time, it would not matter if I found what I was looking for - because I've already had it all along.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Happiness is a curious thing. It rushes at you in overwhelming waves, then rushes away again. It is so full yet fleeting that one is left with merely the air in one's lungs, and wondering if anything was actually real or there at all.

I've gotten older. I don't crave happiness. I don't need happiness to be happy. Doesn't that make no sense at all? But that is what time and wisdom bring - the ability to see past this world's shellacking into one's own truth. I don't know yet what happiness really is or even what it's worth, but I can now sense that it exists in the absence of emotion. It does not cling or desire. It is not reaching for anything more than it already is.

And though I'm still meditating on what truth and happiness might actually be, I have realized one of its manifestations. For the first time, I can observe and appreciate the accomplishments of others with no impact to my own esteem. I can admire beauty and success without covet or envy. It's such a small thing, really, and yet a huge one. To achieve real objectivity. To achieve one's own worth without comparison to others. To know you are so right and whole that there is nothing left to crave.

On the day you realize there is nothing left for you to want, that is the ultimate rush. It is astounding and pure. That realization gives you the freedom to appreciate the beauty in this world without a need to claim it for yourself. You and every good thing - now unfettered.

This might not be happiness, but perhaps a step closer to actualization. Like everyone, I experience melancholy, anger, hurt - but these are passing emotions that I need not fear nor cling to. These emotions, I can smile on them and let them go. They help shape the landscape, but they are not the earth.

I do not compare. I already have everything I need. Whatever else happens around me, I remain the earth and the sky. I am transient and eternal.

"Pursuing you in your transitions,
In other Motes —
Of other Myths
Your requisition be.
The Prism never held the Hues,
It only heard them play —
~Emily Dickinson

Saturday, January 21, 2012

On the Loss of Her History, or An Ode to White Mythmaking

On the Loss of Her History, or An Ode to White Mythmaking
Written by friend and poet, Tel McGaha

What I meant to say over Christmas supper when I said
whites should not save little Asian babies, is this:

Somewhere in the city a woman felt a pang of pain
and knew her daughter was giving birth while
withdrawing funds from Shinhan Bank so she might
vacation with her children in Daegu, if she were not dead
from the invented stones you layered in her pockets before
leaping from the Busan Bridge, all for honor
so she might come speechless to us
(엄마 and 간식 stolen from her mouth),

across the sea in the arms of a nanny on Northwest,
or porcelain Moses-like floating into Memphis
in a straw-filled crate, or better yet:
Carried upon the back of an Asian dragon,
but of the white variety like the one I hated
in The NeverEnding Story of my own childhood.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why I search

In the past six months, I have gotten a little more serious about my birth family search.  I wouldn't call it quite active, but the door is open for me to travel to Korea to appear on the KBS show "I Miss that Person," and I have built enough of a network that I feel I could pull off a somewhat diligent search when my personal resources allow.  In honesty, I can't say I have any hope that a search would be fruitful.  Nor am I sure I'd be fully prepared for the consequences of a successful search - but when can one really be ready?

The question I've fielded from a number of people is Why?  Why search?  When you already have a happy life, a wonderful family who loves you beyond measure, what could one possibly be searching for?  I can tell you that I am not searching for a family to replace the one I have.  I am not looking for a happiness that my own life denied me.  I'm not even looking for a "missing piece" of myself or my history.  What I seek is far greater in scope and much more difficult to explain.

The problem with trying to relay my motives is that I lack the vocabulary, and  I am also speaking to an audience who lack the frame of reference to understand.  But I'm going to try.

In the American culture, the vocabulary used to define and describe family is loaded with connotations.  Stop for a moment and think of what the word family means to you.  Look at the word parent, and pull it apart to all the ways it has been applied in your life.  Now mother.  At the most fundamental level, what is a mother?

Most adults I know cannot pull apart the concepts of parental love and biological kinship.  I mean this from the child's perspective - many adults I know have not experienced love and biology as mutually exclusive concepts and are therefore deeply ingrained to connect one to the other.  This is not a shortcoming of any person - it is just the way that our brains are able to make sense of the world.  To those who were raised by their biological parents, they do not even understand that "parent" carries both definitions - the roles and actions of a person who nurtures, loves, and parents a child vs. the spiritual and almost instinctive way that the parent is linked to the child.  One might understand this at an academic level, but there are implications on a deeply personal and emotional level that cannot be understood until the two concepts are cleaved apart.

How can you explain the parents who stand by their children who have committed murder, rape, or worse?  What causes us to forgive family members who have deeply wronged us, when we could never forgive a person outside of our biological circle?  Why do we place our own biological family, in most cases, in greater personal importance than any other person on earth?  It is normal and human to have a strong bias to one's own blood.

In parenting my own children, I observe the joy they take from having physical similarities.  I sense the confidence they gain from knowing that their parents are uniquely and biologically theirs.  They have a sense of roots, history and permanence in knowing that they were born into their perfect place in the world.

For children whose biological narrative is broken, they lack those experiences that most people don't even realize they are experiencing.  I will not speak for all adopted people, but I will speak for myself.  As I child I saw no faces like my own, and lacked that simple joy of physical validation.  I understood at a fundamental level that I was not unique - I was any child from any orphanage, and if I hadn't been placed with this family then another child would have.  I had no sense of personal family history - I felt my story began the day my airplane landed in the US, and that I had no roots.

Only as an adult am I beginning to reclaim some of that lost territory.  I find some physical validation in my children, I know that I am the unique and right mother for my children, and I know that my history will not end when I die.

But I choose to search because I should not have to find that simple human validation only as a mother.  In many ways, I had half a childhood.  This is no fault of my parents or greater family - I love them and they are truly my family.  My American family has not failed in any way.  I realize they may not completely be able to understand my motives for searching because they have had the luxury of knowing family to be both love and biology.  Most people believe that love is the definition of family, but that is because they have not had to isolate love from biology.  By default, biology is the most basic tenet of family.  Who can argue that it's not?

I know there are exceptions.  Please don't belabor the point with the myriad exceptions, or with examples of blended families.  This is just the best and easiest way I know to explain why I choose to search.  It is not something that every person can understand - and I don't expect every person to understand or agree.  If you comment in order to change my mind or make me feel I'm wrong, then you may want to examine your own motivations, and perhaps even your own insecurities.  My family is secure enough to know that their love and relationship are not in jeopardy if I am miraculously able to find my Korean family.

I'm not searching for something that is lost or missing.  I'm searching for something that, as a basic human right, has always been mine to claim.