Choose Your Reality
So many of the articles I see related to transracial adoption are of the adventures of a-parents romping around “third world” countries “rescuing” children and writing their futures in the U.S. Sometimes I’m just sick of it.
Here’s an article that was published in the NY Times not too long ago discussing the connection that these adoptive families, but more specifically adoptive mothers have in New York. The “interwoven” lives of these families brought together through adoption and their children’s shared orphanage bonds.
But again, adoptees’ voices are missing. I acknowledge that many of these Chinese adoptees are still in their youth. It’s essentially waiting for their generation to come of age, much like how KADs have.
But one of the issues I take offense to is this whole re-writing of reality, choosing which story to tell their children.
“As the girls get older, their mothers will ration out the precious few remaining details of their stories. But first, they have to decide which story they want to tell.”
The story to tell is the truth. There is no room for manufactured reality. It’s not their job to decide or shape the reality or circumstances of their birth or relinquishment. Especially when most of these “truths” that are passed to their children can heavily affect the ways in which these adoptees come to understand who they are.
“Nor is she alone in these feelings. Having read about older transracial adoptees, some of whom say they resent having lost their cultural identity, these three mothers worry about what their daughters will think when they are no longer the silent characters of their own stories but their authors — and editors.”
It strikes me as disingenuous for these mothers to worry about their daughters coming of age and potentially re-writing their lives, when it is them who are deciding exactly which story or angle they wish to pass on to their children. They worry that this will happen, and I assume they are choosing their reality in attempts to steer their children clear of these “angry adoptees.” Well let me say, getting Chinese take-out is not getting them in touch with their roots, and it’s not from a fortune cookie that I’d be looking for answers if I were them… G.S.
The New York Times
January 6, 2008 Sunday
Late Edition – Final
BYLINE: By BROOKE HAUSER
SECTION: Section 14CY; Column 0; The City Weekly Desk; Pg. 8
LENGTH: 2171 words
THERE is an ancient Chinese myth that people who are destined to meet are connected from birth by invisible red thread. For three Brooklyn mothers who were strangers until a few years ago, the legend has a deeply personal resonance. In early 2004, when they traveled in the same group to adopt year-old girls in China, Martha Laserson, Molly Parker-Myers and Lauren Uram made a discovery that would thread their families together for life.
During a visit to the orphanage where the babies lived, in Anhui Province of southeast China, the women were told that their daughters not only knew one another but were also crib mates.
Before they became Annabelle Laserson, Hazel Parker-Myers and Leah Potoff, the little girls were Dong Dong, Ping Ping and Qiang Qiang, and they slept side by side. Before they developed a taste for New York-style pizza, they ate a rice porridge called congee from the same spoon.
Before the well-tended pigtails and chin-length bobs, they wore matching institutional buzz cuts. And now, living in brownstone Brooklyn, nearly 7,000 miles away from the place they were born, they are best friends.
”It was still dark as we headed out, and we were all in our private bubbles of nervousness and joy. We were going to meet our babies. As it got lighter, I marveled at the countryside — the water buffalo, the fields, the little villages — I wanted to memorize the surroundings to describe to my little girl in the years to come. She, after all, would be raised in Brooklyn (along with two of her crib mates), and not one of these farm villages we passed, although she may well have started out there.”
Four years ago, Mrs. Parker-Myers, Mrs. Laserson and Ms. Uram were delivered to their daughters. These days, the girls see one another regularly, marking the passages of childhood by attending one another’s birthday parties and eating Chinese takeout with their families. Thanks to their daughters’ unique bond, the three women also belong to an exclusive mothers’ group of three.
All these connections played themselves out during a late summer picnic in Prospect Park. The women took turns breaking up bubble-blowing fights and watching the girls collect bouquets of sticks under a canopy of trees. When the mothers weren’t wiping little noses, their talk gravitated to subjects like New York’s ever-growing population of adopted Chinese girls. While there is no exact count of the number of Chinese adoptees in the city, nearly 70,000 have found homes in American families since 1992.
”That’s one of the biggest reasons why we chose to adopt from China,” said Mrs. Parker-Myers, who has a heart-shaped face and thick brown hair. ”I felt like it was this sisterhood in a way. Our daughters will have someone else to grow with and bounce around ideas with, but they’ll also have a connection to their babyhood. That’s invaluable.”
Given the local prevalence of children adopted from China in recent years, it is not uncommon for New York families to uncover orphanage ties. Dr. Jane Aronson, a Manhattan pediatrician who specializes in treating children who were adopted abroad and who is known as ”the Orphan Doctor,” often overhears her patients quizzing one another in her waiting room about the circumstances under which they adopted their Chinese babies.
”Looking for missing answers — and there are so many — when you have a moment of connection, it’s very powerful,” Dr. Aronson said. ”It’s wonderful because it’s history, it’s roots, it’s family — it’s orphanage family. And often it’s the only family the kid has from the country where they were adopted.”
In Search of Memories
”Finally, we were let out at the lobby. We knew we would be leaving this place with our babies in our arms. The lobby was adorned with lavish decorations for the upcoming Lunar New Year, and was a sea of red and gold. We noticed only vaguely, I think, because we were all so thrilled — and because we all had to pee desperately! I remember all the moms-to-be rushing to the bathroom together, chatting, chatting, filled with nervous energy.” Jan. 5, 2005
In an effort to mend their daughters’ broken ties to their birthplace, the three mothers cling to the few scraps of information they have and, in their different ways, try to piece together a patchwork of memories, however threadbare.
Mrs. Parker-Myers, 35, a preschool teacher who lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Kensington with her husband, Lars, a manager of jewelry trade shows, is the writer of the group. She chronicled their two-week journey to China in an eloquent adoption diary that includes comment on everything from the sparrow kebabs and goat testicles that she encountered during her first days in Beijing to the mothers’ attempts to absorb the essence of the country that their daughters never knew.
Ms. Uram, a quiet-mannered illustrator with ginger-colored hair in her late 40s, is the archivist. In the Lefferts Manor brownstone where she lives with her husband, Leni Potoff, an art conservator, she has carefully stored away dozens of artifacts from the couple’s trip to China, among them a Going Home Barbie, a limited-edition doll given to adoptive parents that is accessorized with a detachable Chinese baby, and the clothes Leah wore in the orphanage, carefully wrapped in red tissue paper.
Mrs. Laserson, a social worker with a petite athletic build who is in her early 40s, lives in Park Slope with her husband, David, a stockbroker, and their 9-year-old biological son. Unlike the fastidiously organized Ms. Uram, Mrs. Laserson is a bit of a pack rat. But despite the jumble of toys and books that clutter her two-story brick home, she can meticulously recount each laborious step of the adoption process.
It’s unlikely that the three women would have become fast friends had they not traveled together to Asia. But they waited together in China. They were in the same room when their babies were placed in their arms. They were together at the orphanage when they discovered that their daughters had shared the same crib. They were even together when they saw the locations where the three abandoned babies had been found before being brought to the orphanage.
”I know that if anything ever happened to me, Leah could always come to you with questions,” Ms. Uram recently told the other two women. ”Because you were there.”
The Threads of Their Lives
”The main caregiver took Ping Ping in her arms, crying and saying her name and giving her lots of hugs and kisses. It was very emotional. She held Ping Ping and Dong Dong (Annabelle, another future Brooklynite) together, and we told her how they were going to live in the same place in the U.S., and they’d see each other often.” Jan. 8, 2004
The girls are now 5, the age at which many adoptive children are just beginning to understand that they are somehow different.
One fall morning, Hazel Parker- Myers followed her mother into the family’s living room and put to her a tricky two-part question: ”How many childs do you have?” she asked, scribbling invisible notes into a pad. ”And how did they come into your family?”
Like Ms. Uram and Mrs. Laserson, Mrs. Parker-Myers has often told her daughter the story of her adoption. One Sunday morning over homemade biscuits and marmalade, they looked through the pictures in Hazel’s adoption album while her mother recited the abridged version of Hazel’s story: In addition to Leah and Annabelle, its characters includes the caregivers at the orphanage, or aunties as they were called.
”You were in China living with your aunties, right?” Mrs. Parker-Myers prompted, as they paused over a picture of a tearful Chinese caregiver cradling two toddlers in pink and blue bunting. (Annabelle, the baby in pink, has the identical photograph in her album.) ”And we were living in Brooklyn, and we wanted to adopt a baby.”
As the girls get older, their mothers will ration out the precious few remaining details of their stories. But first, they have to decide which story they want to tell.
On the one hand, there is the heartwarming tale of the three orphans who shared a crib in China and are now friends in Brooklyn. But as Mrs. Parker-Myers put it, ”We don’t want to be seen as clueless adoptive parents who are just thinking that our child’s life is a fairy tale, because obviously it’s not.”
Soon after the adoption, Mrs. Parker-Myers stopped subscribing to the red-thread theory, which many adoptive parents of Chinese children have embraced as a way to imagine the fated bond between parent and child. ”You can’t rely on mythology to explain their story because it isn’t the whole story,” she said.
Nor is she alone in these feelings. Having read about older transracial adoptees, some of whom say they resent having lost their cultural identity, these three mothers worry about what their daughters will think when they are no longer the silent characters of their own stories but their authors — and editors.
The conflict over what to share and what not to share underscores the differences among the three women. At the picnic in Prospect Park, Ms. Uram bristled when Mrs. Parker-Myers began to tell one of Hazel’s favorite stories, about how the orphanage caregivers lined up the babies at the edge of their crib and fed them congee from the same spoon.
”I don’t think you should do it,” Ms. Uram scolded. ”It’s a sad story.”
Mrs. Parker-Myers shrugged off the comment. ”I think it seems pretty practical myself,” she said. ”If I had triplets, I’d feed them like that, too.”
There was a pause. Finally, in an effort to ease the mood, Mrs. Laserson said, ”I think it’s a big cultural difference.”
Growing Up, Perhaps Apart
”It’s really been fun to get to know these other families. This is a real bonding experience. The three Brooklyn families are already planning to have a mothers’ group with our girls.”
Jan. 9, 2004
As their memories of the trip to China fade, the three mothers from Brooklyn try to blend subtle touches of their daughters’ first culture into their lives and their homes.
Annabelle and Hazel recently took a Chinese ribbon-dancing class together in Park Slope. At Leah’s house, Ms. Uram and her husband now celebrate Passover with matzo-ball soup served with chopsticks and Chinese ladles. There is already talk of a joint ”homeland trip” when the three girls are older.
Still, as their lives unspool in different directions, their invisible red thread will begin to stretch. It already has.
Especially during that first year after their return from China, the mothers relied heavily on one another for support. But as their bonds with their daughters grow stronger, the women are depending on one another less and less.
In part, this is because they have different ideas about child-rearing. Mrs. Parker-Myers wants a progressive education for Hazel, who on a recent afternoon could be found in the family’s living room playing with castanets and shrieking with laughter. Ms. Uram prefers a more structured approach for Leah, who attended preschool at the Red Apple School in Chinatown, perhaps the city’s best-known bilingual school for Chinese students, and is tutored privately in Mandarin.
As the girls grow older, it’s likely that they will also grow apart. The Parker-Myerses are adopting another girl, who is in China awaiting her new family, and they are considering moving away from the city as early as next fall, perhaps to Philadelphia.
On a recent outing to a Chinese restaurant in Park Slope, Mrs. Parker-Myers was tense with expectation and anxiety. ”I can’t predict the future,” she said, fumbling with a message from a fortune cookie that offered no clues. ”It doesn’t seem very hopeful that we can stay in New York, because, frankly, we can’t afford it.”
The mothers are also preparing themselves and their daughters for the challenges they are likely to face as they get older. But the girls will have to fight certain battles themselves.
”As they move into school, they’re getting the sense that there is a stigma associated with being adopted,” said Amanda Baden, a New York psychologist who specializes in transracial adoptions, and is herself a Chinese daughter of Caucasian parents. ”They may get more self-conscious about the fact that their parents look different from them. And they’re starting to understand that for them to have this family means that they might have lost another family.”
It is at that point, the mothers hope, that their daughters’ crib connection, tenuous as it might seem, will be of use to the girls.
”They have other adopted friends from China, but no one else they shared a crib with,” Mrs. Laserson said. ”There will be times when they don’t want to be adopted and Chinese. But there will be other times when they need to feel adopted and Chinese. And no matter where they are, they have two other people they can talk to.”