Saturday, 24 August 2013

The life and times of adopting internationally

J had a playdate with a friend from her Summer Chinese School.  On the last day of Summer School, I had sent letters through J, to the parents of 2 of her classmates, who she played with all the time.  We’ll call them, Sally and Jodie.  In the note, I told both that J had such a great time with their daughters and that I’d like to plan some playdates.  In included my email address, telephone number, Canadian name and Chinese name (as I always do when dealing with Chinese people-why have the name if I can’t use it?).  Both sets of parents replied, and so I organized something for today.  Sally was able to make it, Jodie was not.

Sally and her Father arrived before we did.  Given we were a couple of minutes late, my husband dropped J and I off and went to park.  When we arrived, I looked around and did not see Sally.  J said she could see Sally’s Father, so I asked where, and we approached him.  I introduced myself (which, in hindsight, I probably should have done in Mandarin, but chickened out as I usually do).   I asked if he was planning on staying or going, as we didn’t mind supervising the girls for a couple of hours.  He seemed confused, so I reiterated to him that we had our laptops and planned to stay, so if he had things to do, we were fine with staying.  Then my husband arrived.  There was brief small talk, and then he indicated he would leave but seemed a bit reluctant (understandably so, as he really did not know us) and confused.  Then he said: “I just had never met you before.  I thought you were Chinese.” 


He followed it up with: “You have a Chinese name.”  So I explained that I have been taking Mandarin lessons for a few years and one of my teachers had named me.  He chuckled a bit and said: “Oh, you take lessons.”

He left to do some shopping, and Hubby and I watched in wonder as Sally and J played, laughed, had fun and enjoyed each other’s company.

When dad returned, he was not overly friendly.  I tried to make conversation.  I told him his daughter said they went to New York for her birthday and saw the Lion King.  He said there were a lot of people in New York, compared to our city.   So (speaking of lots of people), I talked about our trip to China last November. He seemed surprised that we went to China.  So we talked about the fact that we went to Julia’s birth city.  He asked, in amazement: “She had a family in China???” I explained that she was adopted when she was 1 year old, and we only knew what city she was from.  A few times, while we chatted, he would let out this weird, laugh, that I felt was really condescending.  I can’t even explain it.  I'm skipping many details, because I don't even know how to describe them.

All that matters is that it wasn’t until later, when I post-mortemed the interaction and tried to figure out why it felt so awkward and uncomfortable.

That’s when it occurred to me. 

I interact with Chinese people.  A lot.  It is no secret that I am in love with China and its people.  Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I jump in there and chat with them, sometimes in Mandarin, sometimes in English or French.  And when the conversation manages to work itself around family and children, they are always excited to hear that I have this beautiful, smart, endearing, loving daughter from China.  We talk about where she is from, and how old she was when she came to us and more often than not, they say that she is a lucky girl to have parents like us, to which my standard response is: “no-we are the lucky ones to have this amazing child”.  I hate being hailed as a hero.  I am not.  This was a selfish act, not a rescue mission.

The problem is that I have been keeping a close eye on the reports of child trafficking scandals in China.  Everytime I read about yet another one being uncovered, I freak out a little and hope that this is not what happened to bring my daughter into the adoption process.  This is a personal emotional struggle I have never talked about until today.  Not even with my husband.

But today was the first time that I felt there was any inkling of those thoughts about my child by someone else.  Could I be wrong about this?  Could it be that this was nowhere near Sally’s dad’s mind in his interactions with me (especially his vehement question about J’s family before we adopted her)?  Yes.  I may be over analyzing.   But it has made me think.  And it made me want to write about this very touchy subject.

When we received our referral for J’s adoption, we were told that she was found less than 24 hours after her birth, in a vacant rental space near a school.  We are not oblivious to the fact that this may or may not be her real story.  Frankly, it seems a few children (at least J and 2 others) have this same story (and exact same generally described location).  It is possible that it is just a popular place to leave a child, in the hopes that she (or he) will be found quickly.  The fact that when we were in our daughter’s birth city in November, our guide questioned the locals and found out that a child had been found nearby about a year ago lends credence to the fact that it may, in fact, just be a good spot. 

Even at 6, J understands that we don’t know if this is the truth or not.  For now, we have made a conscious decision to accept this story as our truth.  We’ve also been clear with J that we will be taking her lead on this.  If she chooses to believe it, so will we.  And if she decides it doesn’t feel right and that it is not her story, we will support her as well.  The same goes for the “finding clothes” we were provided, allegedly coming from J’s file at the orphanage.  Well, kinda.  In that case, we’ve decided, led by J’s feeling, that they are probably not authentic.  We’ve taught her to always follow her gut.  And we have made it clear that whatever she believes as her story, is what we will believe as well.

I have to come to terms with the fact that the story we’ve been given may be a cover up for something more sinister.  And if I ever find out that this is the case, I’m not sure how I will stomach it.  The thought of this amazing child being taken away from her birth family illegally, by force, by intimidation or by trickery freaks me out.  I guess I’ve convinced myself that in a situation where deeply entrenched societal values force you to look upon a female birth as a curse and where only a male child is acceptable, abandoning an infant child in a society where girls have a chance at a real life in China or elsewhere, I feel abandonment would have been the lesser of the evils (the more evil being leaving her to die or ending her life).  So when people say: “Isn’t it a shame how they just abandon their girls?” I usually respond with: “At least, their daughters have a chance at a life where they will be loved and cherished.  It is better than being left to die.”   Regrettably, not all of them find a loving home.  I wish they did.  But they have a better chance at it than if they were to die.

Would these children be better to be raised in their birth family?  I’m going out on a limb, here, in a very controversial area.  Here’s how I see it: If they would not be loved and, rather, would be resented for not allowing the family to have a boy (as a result of the one child policy), then no.  They would not necessarily be better off. The fact is this: this is not about whether or not the child would be better with a birth family or an adoptive family (because, let’s face it, there are way too many children who do not get adopted and age out in orphanages of varying quality).  This is about the impact that the one child policy has on a society where a preference for boys has persisted and grown from thousands of years.  It is about forcing families to choose between raising their children at an unreasonably huge financial cost (fines are usually about a year’s worth of wages) or teaching women that a child is not a child until it is born a boy (i.e. don’t get attached to a foetus, as you don’t know if you’ll get to keep it).

There is another aspect to this.  Let’s say Sally’s Dad did have this on his mind.  Why?  What if he has a family member who went through the loss of a child by illegal means?  What if he and his wife did?  How would they feel upon meeting us?  After all, adoptive families are often seen, rightly or wrongly, as being the ones to blame for creating this market for child trafficking.  If this was the case for him or someone close to him, and you were in his shoes, how would you react?

So there are so many issues here.  And if you’ve adopted internationally or are planning to, you must be prepared for the comments, insinuations, difficult conversations, and emotional confusion and pain all of this will cause in your life and your child’s life.  I chose to do this, knowing the risks (well, partially-it’s always so much clearer once you’re living it).  But my child didn’t choose this.  What about when she’s old enough for people to choose to discuss these things with her?  How much does this risk hurting her?  She didn’t choose this…  But the social protective bubble I bought doesn’t fit.  That means that I’ll have to protect her the old-fashioned way: with age-appropriate education, frank discussion and unrelenting and unconditional support.  Here I go….

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


What is a good friend?  Where do we make friends?  How do we keep them?

I've discovered lately that I have very few reliable friends.  I have many friends who often want to get together (lunch, movie, or even a phone call) but after plans are made, they always fall through.  Some are so notorious at it that when I make plans (such as my lunch plans yesterday), I always have a back up (thank goodness I brought lunch-I knew he would cancel at the last minute).

Is reliability important in a friendship?  Does it make a difference if the friend always has a "good" excuse?  What is a "good" excuse anyway?  What is sufficient?

Is unreliability a good enough reason to disconnect and abandon a friendship?  I suppose it depends on what the positives are.  It depends on the balance in the Emotional Bank Account (EBA).  What?  I haven't yet talked about EBA's?  Well, here is a good summary of Stephen Covey's EBA's, and a slightly more fleshed out version .  I believe every single relationship in our lives has an EBA.

So the truth is that every time someone proves themselves to be unreliable, they are making withdrawals to their EBA.  As long as their EBA balance is in the positive, you continue to accept them in your life.  But they must double up on the deposits to make up for the withdrawals (to cover the fees and interest...).

So why do we keep friends?  What is it that makes a friendship more solid than another?

Unfortunately, I've come to the realization that I have a lot of selfish friends.  I'm not sure why.  I think I tend to be very supportive and complimentary, and selfish people like that.  I also have friends who are totally there when you really, really need them, but when you just need them (i.e. not REALLY, REALLY need them), they are more concerned about themselves.  I guess I've let them do that.  If they cancel on me, I pretend it doesn't bother me.  If they can't carve time out of their busy schedule, I tell them I understand.  I make sure they don't feel bad.  That's the "People-pleaser" in me.  Like a Scorpio (which I am not), I let things fester, bottled up inside, and then when I've had enough, I explode.  And then my friends are confused because they didn't see it coming.

I think a lot of it revolves around my trusting nature.  I tend to trust people until they prove me otherwise, instead of distrusting until a person has proven themselves to be trustworthy. So if someone gives me an excuse for not being able to spend time with me, I believe that what they are telling me is true.  And because they are telling me the truth, I feel I have to be understanding.  I don't think about my feelings, I only think about theirs.  Which is probably why people who are selfish and have no other friends, love me so much...

I have a friend who is from a small community and has recently been away for a long time (several years).  When she returned home, she was upset that the people around her had moved on.  Many of her friends had left the community, and the ones who were still there were in very different places in their lives.  She felt so alone.    But the fact is that when she went away, she changed too.  She made new friends, was busy with her new life all the time, and her friends were the ones who felt very lonely at the time.  So they moved on, made new friends, moved away, got married, had kids, etc.  They didn't resent her for moving away and for enjoying her new life.  But they couldn't possibly be expected to stew and brood at home waiting for her either.  Again, this is an EBA issue.  She made no (or minimal) deposits to those friends' EBA, yet she expected them to keep her credit line open, in case she needed it.  My challenge in all of this is that I can't tell her this because it would hurt her.  And I can't do that.  Because it flies in the face of a People-pleaser personality (and I love her with all my heart and couldn't bear to be the reason for her hurting).   Incidentally, during one of her rants about how everyone had abandoned her, I offered to clear my schedule to call her.  We planned a call half an hour later.  It didn't happen.  So I waited.  A further half hour later, she said she was tired and wanted to go to bed instead.  That was several days ago and I haven't heard from her since.

In fairness, though, I haven't always been the best friend to her, and she has forgiven me.  She's been there for me at times when I really needed her.  But that was when we lived in the same community, and deposits to each other's EBA's were frequent and plentiful.  The withdrawals never brought our relationship into a negative balance because there were so many deposits.  Like a regular bank account, if you stop making deposits, you are still charged a monthly fee.  So eventually, you'll be overdrawn, and the small deposits won't cut it anymore.  Eventually, the bank will just close your account.  A friend will end the friendship.

Thankfully, I, as others, have moved on.  I have one "new" friend in particular, who is always there for me, as I am for her.  Our friendship is golden to both of us.  We meet at least once a week.  There have been weeks when we've had to cancel, but we usually try to reschedule, or make sure we chat enough during the off days, so that we know exactly how important we are to each other.  She does live in the same city as me though, and local friendships are a lot easier to maintain than long distance ones.  But local friendships can also be distant (God knows, I have a lot of those), so it's nice to have at least one friend who treats you like you're the greatest thing that ever happened to them.  Regularly.  And it is reciprocal.

This doesn't mean that I've closed my EBA with my other long-time friend.  It just means that I am keeping an eye on the balance.  If monthly fees keep being taken out without a couple of good sized deposits, the account will likely close before long.  Alternatively, the account may just stay dormant, in the hopes that someday, a sizeable deposit will be made to rectify the balance.

Friends are a funny thing.  They come, and they go. Some of them stick around through the good and the bad. One thing is for certain, though.  You can't let your self-worth be defined by the people who chose to be or not to be in your life.  Nevertheless, everyone has an obligation to look inside themselves to see whether they really are the person they wish to be.  If you're not, only one person can change that.  You.

Be a good friend.

UPDATE: After having lunch with my former career counsellor (who is the most amazing thing that ever happened to me) I have been enlightened further.  Apparently, in Japanese culture, people are seen as falling into 2 different categories: Givers and Takers.  I am, it would seem, a Giver.  I think my new friend referenced above is a Giver too.  A lot of people in my life are Takers.  This does not make them bad people-it just explains why they are drawn to me (Why wouldn't a Taker be drawn to a Giver?).  I feel this explains a lot...