Reunion Between Birthmother and Child She Couldn’t Keep: A Review

by Luanne

Cover of "Reunion: A Year in Letters Betw...

Cover via Amazon

On the advice of Carrie Mulligan @CCMFeltHats, I read Reunion: A Year in Letters Between a Birthmother and the Daughter She Couldn’t Keep. I’m so glad she mentioned it because I hadn’t heard about the book before. What an experience!

In 1996, Katie Hern, a 27-year-old woman who had been adopted domestically, located her birth mother, Ellen Carlson, and initiated contact. They began their reunion through a series of letters and then emails and eventually met in person.

Because both Katie and Ellen are excellent writers, they allow readers into their lives, their personalities, and their emotions in ways that left me feeling as if I knew them both personally and had been witness to their reunion.

Although I prefer Jaye Roth’s image of a Rubik’s cube as a metaphor for adoption, this book discusses the adoption triad or triangle because of how Katie negotiates her new relationship with Ellen, while handling her position in the family she grew up with. Since I am an adoptive mom, I am the 3rd point of the triangle, and so it was really refreshing for me to read a book by the other two “points.”

Ellen is an educated woman who is thrilled to be in touch with the baby, now an adult, she gave up for adoption over a quarter of a century before. Even so, she makes missteps as she has to learn how to understand Katie’s perspective. She’s a willing student.

Katie, who has been the family peacemaker, learns how to teach Ellen to understand where Katie is “coming from.” Katie has a lot of feelings to deal with—feelings she didn’t expect to have.

As they learn how to relate to each other, they learn more and more about each other. They identify similarities and differences.

Katie admits near the beginning that a lot of literature by adoptees “pisses” her off. She doesn’t want to self-identify as a “mythic hero” or “survivor,” as Betty Jean Lifton would have her do. She thinks that the term “adoptee” sounds “like something you need a prosthesis for.”  Above all, she doesn’t want anybody to tell her how she should feel or think about being adopted.

But as the reunion goes on, Katie becomes introspective, learning more about herself, her feelings about having been adopted, and how adoption might have helped shape her personality and outlook on life. She comes to believe that she has a “fluid” identity because she was adopted.  This means that there is a lot of “shifting” involved.

As things go on there are changes, where the relationship between Katie and Ellen deepens.  Rifts occur. I’m not going to ruin the ending by telling you how the book ends regarding their relationship.

The only other thing I’ll mention is that I’m really glad they decided to put Katie’s brother Matt in their letters. I think his story, albeit through Kate’s eyes, is a good addition to the book.

I can’t wait to hear what y’all think about the book!

A Book for Children about Open Adoption: “Megan’s Birthday Tree”

by Luanne

I’m excited to be participating in the Book Club over at Open Adoption Bloggers.  The first book we read is Megan’s Birthday Tree, written by Laurie Lears and illustrated by Bill Farnsworth (2005).  In this book, Megan is a young girl who is an adoptee in an open adoption.  The characters are Megan, Mom, Dad, and Kendra.  Mom and Dad are the adoptive parents, and Kendra is the birth mother.  Kendra planted a small tree in her yard to remind her of Megan.  The story’s central conflict is how Megan reacts when she learns that Kendra is moving away.  Megan assumes that Kendra will leave the tree behind and, thus, forget about Megan.

Our moderator Heather provided us with a list of discussion questions which was put together from suggestions by all of us “book clubbers.”

There are so many wonderful questions, but I will only address a few of them.  My participation is based on my experience as an adoptive mom and from teaching children’s literature at the college level before I retired, but I don’t have young children at home any longer.

  Have you experienced moving or marriage as an adoptive mom or birth mother? Was it difficult to explain to your child? What did you do to help your child understand that your love remains no matter where you go or who comes into the family?

My children are adults now and were not adopted through open adoptions, but through international adoption.  However, we did move when they were six and two.  The move took us away from the extended (adoptive) family and away from a community where transracial adoptions such as ours (Caucasian parents and Korean kids) were common and to a place where it was rare.  We had to work extra hard to provide them with that sense of family and identity we were leaving behind and found it in a small private school and our worship congregation.

  Do you think this book represents a realistic view of what open adoption might look like?

From the stories I hear from others who are in open adoptions, I think this is a realistic view of a very good open adoption situation.

  While the birthday tree was used to decorate and celebrate Megan’s birthday in what other ways do you believe the tree was important to Megan and her birth mom?

Trees are living beings and they grow as children grow.  They also grow as love grows.  There is a sense of connection to nature.  However, the tree is not Megan.  Kendra says, “I don’t need a tree or anything else to remember you!  Even though we don’t live together, you will always be a part of me.”   Nevertheless, Kendra proves to be just as “silly” as Megan because she is carrying the birthday tree in the back of her truck.  She’s taking it with her to her new home.

  In Megan’s Birthday Tree, Megan’s adoptive parents were present at various points, but tangentially. Did you pick up on this? Does your response to the background role the adoptive parents played say anything about where your family is in your adoption journey?

My take on the role of the adoptive parents in this book is that they are allowing Megan space to grow as an individual and in her relationship with Kendra, rather than claiming ownership of Megan’s experience.  This reminds me of something very powerful in this book: Megan insists on buying a tree for Kendra with her own money and works hard to earn it.  She refuses to take a gift of money from Dad.

  What do you think about the illustrations of Megan as a Caucasian girl? By the text, she doesn’t have to be any one race, but by adding illustrations, she’s clearly a white girl.

While I just reviewed a book where I found the animal characters (dogs) confusing because of the term “adoption,” when the illustrated characters are of a particular race, it is a bit limiting.  Nevertheless, there is nothing inherently wrong with this being a book about Caucasian characters.  It does make me wonder about the statistics of open adoption.  Are there more families composed of white children and white parents?  It’s something I wondered about from looking at the racial composition of this picture book.

  What do you think about the illustrations of the other characters? That Megan looks a lot like Kendra and that the adoptive parents have similar coloring.

I love that Megan looks so much like Kendra.  She isn’t a clone, though, but looks like an actual biological child.  However, the adoptive parents have a similar look to Kendra and Megan, so I also wondered if that was in light of research.  Do a lot of birth mothers choose adoptive parents who resemble themselves?  Since I am not myself in an open adoption, this picture book really started me wondering about the overall picture of open adoptions.

  Sometimes when a person reads a picture book about adoption and something rattles something somewhere inside, but they ignore the warning because the book is so cute and mostly so good. Did you have any of those moments in this book?

I still haven’t found one picture book about adoption that didn’t have something that I wanted to change or that concerned me.  This book is one of the closest to perfect, I think.  I love how Megan, Kendra, Mom, and Dad all hug at the end.  It’s definitely a tear-jerker.  Any drawbacks?  Well, it’s an important point that Kendra and Megan think alike about the tree, as we can see by the end.  But does it undercut the idea that the tree isn’t what’s important?  We have Kendra’s words that she doesn’t need a tree to remember Megan, but then the text and illustrations show Kendra dragging the big tree with her.  I’m torn about this part of the ending.  On the one hand, I appreciate the drama of it and on the other, I do wish that the emphasis was on Kendra not needing the tree.

One other point is that I wish this book was illustrated with other racial combinations and that the book could be sold that way.  Wishful thinking ;).

  The book was categorized by the publisher as one of its “issue books,” dealing with “children’s problems and special needs.” Other books in the series address topics like autism, epilepsy, and stuttering. What do think about a book on open adoption being characterized that way?

I think it’s a necessary evil that this book is labeled an “issue book” because that is how adults in open adoptions will find this book to share with children.  Children don’t know or care how the book is marketed.  What is important that it gets into the hands and minds and hearts of children who will most benefit from reading it.

Definitely put this book on your library or bookstore list!
Open Adoption Book Club @ OpenAdoptionBloggers.com

Read the Back of the Inside Cover First: Review of “Rosie’s Family”

by Luanne

After reading the picture book Rosie’s Family: An Adoption Story by Lori Rosove, pictures by Heather Burrill, I want to scream.

Yup, scream or at least wring my hands in frustration that such a cute book by an adoption professional has some glaring “issues.”

Let me back up.  This is the story of 7-year-old Rosie, a young Beagle who was adopted by a Schnauzer family.  She has a little brother, Joey, who is the biological son of their parents.   The book is geared for the interracial adoption experience.

Welcoming and peaceful, the illustrations are drawings with colored pencils. They depict a cozy home environment, as well as some specific outdoor scenes which evoke a safe and beautiful natural world.

The book is set up to provide to an adopted child answers to her questions, affirmation for emotions she might have, and situations she might have to deal with in the outside world.  This is a very valid project, and at the end of the book are a list of issues parents can use this book to deal with.

“Rosie’s Family highlights several common issues for adoptive families.  It was written primarily as a guide for parents to discuss these issues with their children.”

If I had read this section before reading the book, I might have approached my reading differently.  Rather than being seen as a picture book for children, it might be seen as a guidebook for parents to use as the issues arise.

Here are the problems I have with the book as a “bedtime book” for children.

1.  Rosie is a dog and she was adopted by her family.  I am a huge animal lover (and, yes, I carry on conversations with my cats, interpreting their thoughts into speech).  Still, I find it awkward that the same words we use to talk about bringing specifically dogs and cats into our families (adoption, fostering) are the words we use to talk about bringing children into our families.  Sometimes we hear stories about animals adopted who “don’t work out” and are “brought back.”  Hearing these associations has got to be really puzzling for children, so to confuse the issues in a picture book seems unnecessary.  For some reason I haven’t yet identified, Rosie’s identity as a dog is more important in this book than in other picture books about adoption featuring animals which I have read in the past.

2.  There is a two page spread about where babies “come from” which is confusing.  On the left page, the text reads: “Some kids are adopted into families, like me…….”  The illustrations show a set of birth parents with baby Rosie in a basket facing the Schnauzers, Rosie’s adoptive parents.  On the right page, Rosie is looking at baby Joey inside her Mom, using a sort of telescope (microscope?).  The text reads: “…..and some are born into families, like my brother Joey who grew inside my Mom.”   Unfortunately, this contextualization makes it seem as though Rosie herself was not born.  It’s a comparison of oranges to apples.  The basic idea makes sense, but seeing it contrasted on two opposite pages gave me a strange feeling.

3.  During the questions and issues that arise (Are you my real parents? What were my birth parents like? Where did I live before? Why do I look different from my family?) I suspect that a child who has not yet encountered this breadth of adoption issues might feel overwhelmed.  Reading is frequently a time for comfort and companionship for young children, and this might be just too much all at once.  Nevertheless, as a tool to use to address an issue, it would be a decent book to pull out to illustrate a frank and loving conversation.

Rosie’s Family brings up important issues and deals with them in a trustworthy way, but it’s not bedtime reading.

Run to the Nearest Library or Bookstore

by Luanne

Last night I finished reading Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s memoir Three Little Words.  The book, published in 2009, tells the story of how Ashley survived in Florida’s foster care system.  Eventually she was adopted by a family with two adult sons, and she began a battle through the courts to seek justice and help for other foster children.

On Rhodes-Courter’s website, the synopsis is described this way:

“Sunshine, you’re my baby and I’m your only mother. You must mind the one taking care of you, but she’s not your mama.” Ashley Rhodes-Courter spent nine years of her life in fourteen different foster homes, living by those words. As her mother spirals out of control, Ashley is left clinging to an unpredictable, dissolving relationship, all the while getting pulled deeper and deeper into the foster care system.

Painful memories of being taken away from her home quickly become consumed by real-life horrors, where Ashley is juggled between caseworkers, shuffled from school to school, and forced to endure manipulative, humiliating treatment from a very abusive foster family. In this inspiring, unforgettable memoir, Ashley finds the courage to succeed – and in doing so, discovers the power of her own voice.

This quote is also on the website:

“I felt as worthless as the junk in my trash bag . . . once again, I was the one being tossed out and thrown away.” Taken from her mother when she was scarcely four years old, Rhodes-Courter spent the next nine years in foster care with “more than a dozen so-called mothers.” “Some were kind,” she acknowledges, “a few were quirky and one . . . was as wicked as a fairy-tale witch.” She names names in this memoir, which is also a searing indictment of an often sadly deficient system of child care. Given her experiences, one can understand why she is angry and often bitter, but the unrelieved stridency of her tone makes for sometimes difficult reading. Nevertheless, she gives a voice to countless thousands of children who continue to be abused, abandoned, and ignored, and one hopes her book will make a positive difference in their lives. Grades 8-12. –Michael Cart

I hope to write a review later, but in the meantime I wanted to urge you to run out and get this book today.  41-eXz4jWkL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_

The Diary of an Adoptee: Interview of Elaine Pinkerton about “The Goodbye Baby”

by Luanne

I found it difficult to put down Elaine Pinkerton’s published diary The Goodbye Baby once I began reading.  At first, I was caught up in the mind of an adolescent girl who is both intelligent and a little clueless about herself.  Ultimately, I was drawn into the struggles of the woman the girl had become.

The book’s subtitle is A Diary about Adoption, and while only a tiny proportion of the entries actually mention adoption issues, clearly Elaine’s life had been greatly shaped by the events of her adoption which occurred at the age of five.  Eventually, Elaine re-read her diary, and by doing so was able to begin a healing process from the “bruises of adoption.”

Today Elaine is a very self-aware, spiritual, and quite “centered” woman.  Sharing her diaries with the world is a generous and courageous act.  As an adoptive mother, I found them to be eye-opening.

Like any good reading, Elaine’s book left me with a few questions, so I asked the author herself and she was kind enough to respond.

Q:  When you were writing your diary as a teen, did you have any fantasies about the purpose of your diary or what would happen to it?  I noticed that years after you began your diary, you bought yourself a copy of Anne Frank’s diary. After you read it, did you feel it altered your own diary writing in any way?

A:  Never in my wildest imaginings did I think that my diaries would be re-visited. They were written just for my own release and comfort, not for posterity. It never occurred to me that anything would happen to the little books in which I faithfully recorded daily thoughts and activities. When I read Anne Frank’s diary, I entered into her world. As I recall, after reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I regarded my own diary-writing as a more important activity.

Q:  You call a negative state you have experienced “Edgar.”  Is it depression or is it something else?  If so, how is it different?  If it’s depression, why do you call it by a name and not by the clinical term?

A:  The reason I’ve labeled my depression “Edgar” and not just “depression”…one of my literary heroes and spiritual leaders, the late Hugh Prather, called his own sadness and doubt “Edgar.” In lectures, of which I attended many, Prather would describe waking up each morning and finding that his nemesis, a depression he referred to as “Edgar,” was right there on the pillow, teeth bared and ready to gnaw away at heart and soul. Prather spoke of beating “Edgar” back into his cage and locking him up.

Q:  You seem to have been quite “boy crazy” as a teen.  On March 6, 1962, you recorded that you were dating 16 boys.  Do you feel your adoption played into that in any way?

A:   It was hard, as I reviewed the old diaries, to read about that period of my life. I absolutely cringe at how boy crazy I was. The obsessiveness came from my hunger for love and acceptance. Despite the evidence that my adoptive parents loved me, I felt that I was a disappointment to them. And of course I knew that my birthmother didn’t love me, so I was “looking for love in all the wrong places.” I was trying in vain to prove that I was worthy of love. Instead of love, I went for popularity. And it was never enough.

Q:   Later in the book, I was saddened to watch the old Elaine hanging on for Jack and then hanging on for Sam (even when she very articulately conveyed why Sam was bad for her).  I have been studying Pia Mellody’s work on “love addiction” and have become convinced that therapists who work with people who were adopted should have much knowledge about this subject in their “therapy toolboxes.”  I also noticed that you read Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Much.  Do you feel that love addiction was a component in your relationships with men and if so, from today’s perspective, how did you break free from its grip?

A:  Women Who Love Too Much:  I felt that book could have been written by me, or even about me. The paradigm in my dating life was that the nice suitors, and there were some, had to be losers. Otherwise, why would they be interested in me? As Groucho Marx commented, “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me for a member!” I went for the men who did NOT place me on a pedestal or who ultimately did not treat me at all well.  It was yet another manifestation of adoption-induced low self-esteem. Breaking free from this form of love addiction took years of therapy and a lot of spiritual development. I studied and practiced Buddhism for a period, joined an Episcopalian church and attended faithfully. I prayed to overcome my self-punishing thought patterns. Slowly, imperceptibly, in small increments, I became more mentally healthy.

Q:  Did you revise the diary (other than eliminating passages) or change names?  If so, why?

A:   The diary is not revised other than changing names. I chose passages carefully, taking several years to prune out day entries that shed little light on my adoption perceptions. The everyday material is sometimes shortened (leaving out the entire account of a day) but not rewritten. A few names were changed to protect the privacy of my ex-husband and my children. The “bad boyfriends” (long-term adult relationships) names have been changed. The ex-husband’s and deceased second husband’s names are changed. Names from the distant past, e.g. adolescent friends, were kept the same.

Q:  Was your high school drinking typical of the era?  Was it related to your adoption?

A:  I was not alone in my excessive drinking, as my girlfriends were equally over the top. I was not even the worst. We lived in a university town and UVA was known as a “party college.” The college social life, which we took part in, was definitely an influence. In the style of “Mad Men,” everybody seemed to consume large amounts of liquor. Not my adoptive parents, however. I knew that they did not approve of my drinking and this made me even more convinced that I was a disappointment to them.

Q:  Did it help you (as an adoptee) to have a bio brother growing up with you?  Did it make it more difficult in any way?

A:  My brother was the favorite of our adoptive parents, or so I thought. We were four years apart and I had very little to do with him. If anything, having my bio brother as part of the “new” family made it more difficult.

Q:  I want to know more about the meeting with your birth father. Is there anything else you can add about this experience?

A:  I’ve written about a much-later meeting in my recent blog post “The Dad I Scarcely Knew,” though this was after the reunion described in my book. As far as the trip to California in my diary, I was very conflicted. On the one hand, it was remarkably generous and “progressive” (for the times) of my adoptive parents to authorize such a trip. It was my first time in an airplane, going from Virginia to California. On the other hand, I felt that Giovanni was beneath me socially. From his Navy days, he had a tattoo on his forearm and that seemed like a label for “low class.” Virginia was a very snobbish place, after all. My feeling about “the birthparents” all along had been that they were beneath my adoptive parents economically, culturally and socially. Whether this was conveyed from my adoptive mom and dad or was just something I invented is hard to say. At any rate, I felt awkward and out of place during my entire California visit.

Q:  You mention at one point after meeting with Velma, your birthmother, that you believed that she didn’t approve of you.  I was surprised to hear this because even with your personal problems you sounded like a person a mother would take great pride in. Why did you feel that way?  After I learned that your long view backwards was that Velma suffered from mostly untreated mental illness, I wondered if it was difficult to read her because of her own instability.

A:  Strange as it may sound, my birthmother seemed resentful of my apparent success. The first time she came to my home to visit me, I had just published Santa Fe on Foot. I took her along as I arranged book signings and celebrated the book’s debut. She felt left out and complained that I was “too busy” to meet my half sister. She completely did not understand my joy at the book’s publication, instead feeling that the spotlight should have been on her, not my literary success. I believe that Velma’s instability was indeed the obstacle to my understanding her or her accepting me.

Q:  At the end you mention that you will be meeting your half sister.  Did you meet her?  Have you written about this meeting?  Are you still in contact with her?

A:  Meeting my half sister is still on my “to do” list. I want to make sure that she wants to meet me, as if might be as unsettling as my interactions with Velma. I’m awaiting some kind of sign from her that she would like to meet. Right now there is a lot going on with my own family, and I am focussing on trying to help with some domestic situations. I’ve decided to help bring about a meeting with my half sister if she shows any signs of wanting that.  My half sister said, about our mother, that I “was the lucky one,” as she was sent to a detention home as a teenager. She also told me that Velma tried to give her (my half sister) up for adoption. I gather that she did not have an easy growing up. If and when the time is right, I would be very open to meeting. The situation is still a work-in-progress.

###

Elaine Pinkerton is a long-time resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to writing for magazines and newspapers, she is the author of several popular non-fiction and fiction books.

She is a world traveler, an educator focused on working with young children, a labyrinth facilitator, and also an avid skier, hiker and marathon-runner.  Elaine still resides in Santa Fe with her loving feline companion, Thomas Cromwell, and is already in the works on her next novel.

In her memoir, The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, Elaine Pinkerton reveals the bruises of adoption that have impacted her from the tender age of five. It tells the author’s journey as she is coming to grips with her lifelong wounds from her very own adoption. It is an exploration into self-discovery and the attainment of authenticity. The story of The Goodbye Baby is told through essays and diary entries that span over four decades from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Elaine hopes that by sharing her inner-most thoughts with her readers, they will feel informed and inspired – her overriding mission with the book is to serve as a resource for other in the adoption community who are struggling with their own adoption.

To follow Elaine and her work as an author:

Elaine’s Blog: elainepinkerton.wordpress.com

Follow Elaine on Twitter: @TheGoodbyeBaby

Like Elaine’s Fan Page: Elaine Pinkerton at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elaine-Pinkerton/363479233726632

The Healing Power of Looking Back

by Elaine Pinkerton

Writing The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption gave me a chance to put my adoption in perspective.

I was five years old when my birthmother had to give me up for adoption, and at the time I did not understand what was happening. In the era following WWII, people didn’t talk about family secrets. I mistakenly assumed that I’d done something wrong for my original mom to have given me up. Even though they were based on illogical thinking, feelings of shame and guilt grew. For years, I nursed anger, resentment and sadness about being adopted.

Elaine’s diaries

Then I decided to read all my old diaries. What I found within them was life-changing. As I read my first-hand accounts of the 1950s through the 1980s, I began to release the old misconceptions. The older Elaine forgave the young girl, the rebellious teenager, the unhappy wife. I saw, in hindsight, that I had done the best I could. I recognized many terrific accomplishments. Acknowledging myself, I became the heroine rather than the victim of my past life.

My adoption was no longer a burden. It had taken me from being an orphan to a secure home environment. Because of wonderful adoptive parents, it was a rescue boat. Since my early situation was never explained, I sometimes fell victim to  depression. Through re-reading my diaries, however, I was finally able to understand and forgive the past. Looking back on all that happened and putting my adoption in perspective was the final, unexpected gift of adoption.

Perhaps my “epiphany” is best explained in an excerpt from the Epilogue of The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption:

If it is possible that one can send a brain to boot camp, then that is just what reading my diaries accomplished. Every loss or failed relationship, or so my diaries revealed, echoed that first loss. The loss of my birthmother was one I knew so well and referred to for so long that it was all too easy to toss every loss, failure, slight, emotional hurt into the comfy basket woven from my original privation. I have retired the basket in favor of a daily labyrinth walk to shake out the negative thoughts. Most days it works.

What were the benefits of my diary-reading marathon?  No less than a remodel! Looking at vicious emotional cycles in my past, I stared them down. I grew in the courage needed to resist the voice that liked to say, “Oh, poor me. My mother left when I was just five.”

Turning off the “Oh, poor me” lament is not always easy. As life’s challenges continue, I know I’ll be tested repeatedly. To be alive, after all, is to face crises. The only people who do not grapple daily with frustration, complications, loss and the occasional disaster reside in the cemetery.

Elaine reading one of her diaries

For years, I’d been reading every book and article I could find about the adopted self, especially adult adoptees. They included Betty Jean Lifton’s novels and dozens of self-help books dealing with adoption and loss issues. Until I read the handwritten chronicles of my own life, however, the other adoption books meant little. After harvesting the diaries, I found those works miraculously lucid. The books hadn’t changed, but I had gotten inside my own skin, my own mind. I had a more truthful picture of who I actually was. The diaries provided data, the books gave me strength, and I came to see that my life was just part of a human river. Along with that realization came gratitude.

To put it another way, I got to know the real me, not some abstract construction based on self-concocted mythology.  The diaries provided missing data. Through weeping, crying, occasionally laughing, often being amazed at my stubborn inability to accept the obvious, I worked through the childhood paradigm. At the same time, I gained a new self-respect. So my original mother couldn’t take care of me and I’d been adopted. It was no worse than early challenges faced by hundreds of others.

Everything, it has been said, that happens to one before age six is cast in bronze and that what follows that is not important. I set about to disprove this. As I read about my life first hand, I learned that my initial beliefs about “not being one of the real children” had burdened me with what I think of as an “overcompensation obsession.” I married twice, carrying mistakes of the first union into the second. I hadn’t been an ideal parent. So?

That was then. This is now. I yearn for courage and wisdom. I have tried, through this book, to gain the strength to develop both. There’s something far less lofty that happened. Harvesting the journals yielded a rich treasure: I’m now more comfortable with my memories. We are old pals now.

Several points are salient: I made many hurtful decisions, but I had my reasons.  Though my choices may not have been very wise, I did my best. I wept for that earlier adopted self and put it to rest.

Best of all, my journey to the past strengthened a strong resolve to spend all remaining years on the planet more positively. After researching my life and studying its structure, I’m better at making decisions that serve me well. This is my intention.

***

Elaine Pinkerton is a long-time resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to writing for magazines and newspapers, she is the author of several popular non-fiction and fiction books. She is a world traveler, educator focused on working with young children, labyrinth facilitator, and athlete-skier, hiker, former marathon runner. In The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, Elaine reveals the bruises of adoption that impacted her from the tender age of five. Through excerpts from personal journals she kept for 40 years, we experience her frustrations and successes as she strives to be good enough for her beloved adoptive parents and in all areas of her later life.

Elaine can be “followed” through her blog, Twitter, and Facebook page:

Blog: http://elainepinkerton.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheGoodbyeBaby

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elaine-Pinkerton/363479233726632?ref=hl

A Lighthearted Blog Post with a Smidgeon of Seriousness

by Luanne

Years ago, when I waited for Marc to arrive, I bought him a fluffy Teddy bear and a stuffed seal toy from an animal welfare organization.  Three years later, when I awaited Marisha, I thought about dolls with human features.  It was important to me that she have dolls which looked like her, not the majority of dolls which were available in stores at that time.

I found one beautiful Asian doll with long silky hair, but she was very expensive–close to $100, which was an incredible price at that time–and I put her on layaway.  Seeing Marisha  hugging that baby doll when she was little more than a baby herself was priceless.

When Marisha started school, she received Barbie dolls for her birthdays.  They were usually blonde, but every time she got a blonde one, I bought her a black-haired Barbie.  In this way she accumulated a lot of Barbies.

Then Marisha moved on to her true love:  Power Rangers!!!

 “It’s Morphin’ Time!” (aka Happy Weekend!)

A Nearly Beautiful Tale of Adoption: Review of “Over the Moon”

by Luanne

What beautiful pages!  Over the Moon, written and illustrated by Karen Katz, is a lovely tale of adoption for very young children.

The story is presented with a sense of fantasy, giving it a fairy tale quality.  The night after the new baby is born, a woman and her husband who are “far away” from the baby both have dreams of the same baby.  They know that this is their child and travel a long distance, “over the moon and through the night,” to get to their baby.  The mode of transportation is real–a giant airplane.  This blend of fantasy and reality places the notion of adoption into a larger mythological structure and connects with the child’s individual story of adoption.

Likewise, in the illustrations, Katz softens the boundary between fantasy and reality.  The colors are bright, which serves to highlight the more realistic tones of the human characters.  In this book, the mother has the same black hair as the baby, while the father has brown hair. The baby’s skin tone is darker than that of both parents.  The pictures are collages of papers with various painted small prints, such as stars, dots, and flowers.  This conveys the hint of scrapbook pages and provides a homey, folksy, whimsical experience.

This book acknowledges the role of the birth mother by this explanation:

“‘You grew like a flower in another lady’s tummy until you were born.  But the lady wasn’t able to take care of you, so Mommy and Daddy came to adopt you and bring you home.  Even before you were born we dreamed about you.  We knew we were meant to be together.'”

This is a fairly standard response to children who are adopted.   Cheri Register, in “Are Those Kids Yours?”, argues that this is actually a dangerous path to travel. She believes that without teaching the cultural context for “wasn’t able to take care of you,” that the questions some children will inevitably ask lead to answers that devalue the birth mother’s experience and ultimately the child himself.  She also argues that when children discover that if they didn’t adopt that particular child, they would have adopted another, and that that knowledge undermines the idea of “meant to be together” or “choosing” the child.  Regardless of whether or not you agree with Register, there is a distancing that goes on with the phrase “another lady’s tummy” that makes me uncomfortable.

This book is meant for the very young child, and because of its poetic nature, is meant to be a springboard for discussion, not a manual for how to talk about adoption.  The book takes a very complex and individualized situation and opens a door through which adult and child can enter.

“I Wished for You” Fulfills Its Mission

by Luanne

Somehow Marianne Richmond managed to tell a story of adoption with lots of detail, but without being too specific.  In her picture book I Wished for You: An Adoption Story, Barley, a young bear, and his mother have a long conversation.  Barley asks lots of questions, and his mother answers all of them.  Mama’s explanation is based on her own reality.  Barley has clearly heard this story before, but relishes hearing it again.  It’s easy to imagine that he has come up with new questions since the last time he heard this tale.

He begins by asking his mother to tell him “’again how I’m your wish come true.’” She describes how she wished and wished for a baby.  She answers many questions, including why she wished for Barley, if his birth mother (who grew him in her tummy) wished for him also, if she wished for him during the day or only at night, and if she ever thought her wish might not come true.  Sometimes Mama tries very hard to remember, so the effect is that she is trying very hard to be honest with Barley.

Barley wants to know if she imagined him exactly as he looks.  She says, “’You, Barley, are more beautiful than I ever dreamed.’”  He asks what she did when she found out she was getting her wish.  Her description of shouting for joy and being hugged by her friends shows the details of adoption from the perspective of the adoptive mother, yet is general enough to fit most adoptions.  It reassures Barley how very much he was wanted. When Barley wants to know what she did when she first held him, Mama replies that she fell deeply in love with him.

Ultimately, he wants to know why they don’t look alike, and she explains that all families are different, that “’what makes a family is their love for each other.’”  At the end, it seems that Barley has had the satisfaction of hearing this part of his story yet again, as well as learning new specifics.  In her book, “Are Those Kids Yours?”, Cheri Register devotes a chapter to the importance of telling a child the story of his adoption over and over again.  I want to make clear that this book does not attempt to tell much about the child’s story that occurs before the adoption.

This book does touch on a religious viewpoint at one point when Mama tells her son that God found the perfect child for her.

The illustrations are rough pencil drawings, washed with pastel-tone watercolor.  They reflect a child’s early paintings.

As with many books about adoption, the emphasis is on the adoptive mother’s (re)telling of the adoptive story.  Unless you have an objection to the non-specific religious aspect of the book, this one does a good job of providing a comprehensive description of an adoption without being overly specific.  I can highly recommend this book.

A Blessing in Disguise

by Juliet

At first, it was just a twinge or two, so I ignored it. As a dancer, I was used to pain, from blistered toes to cramped muscles. But after 15 performances of The Nutcracker in December left me limping towards the wings of the stage after each dance act, and as I continued to feel random bursts of sharp pain and stinging even when I wasn’t moving, I knew then these “twinges” needed to be seriously looked at by doctors.  One exam and two MRIs later, I got the bad news: both my shins were dotted with stress fractures that would take months to heal. I was supposed to spend much of the summer at the American Dance Festival at Duke University in North Carolina, but the doctor said it would take months for me to heal. It was clear I wouldn’t be able to go.

So what now? I couldn’t just sit around all summer moping, though I wanted to at first, believe me!  I knew that, as a dancer, it was extremely important to keep moving. That’s why, since middle school, I have spent every summer at dance intensives. I’ve never had what you might think of as a “normal” summer camp experience, where I would ride in a canoe, swim in a lake and sing around a campfire. So when I got the bad news, my mom jumped at the opportunity to expose me to a real American kid camp experience. But I didn’t like the sound of any of them, until a friend told her about Holt International Adoptee Camps. The idea intrigued me.

At Holt, kids who joined their mostly white families from other countries such as China, Korea and Russia (like me: I was born in China) come together for a week in the summer to share their experiences and just have fun in a country setting.  I asked my mom to look into it and we found out that I was too old to be an actual camper, so I would have to be a Counselor- In-Training (CIT).  Mom made the point that it would be a good experience because I was considering majoring in psychology in college with the idea of someday becoming a therapist or counselor, so working as a CIT would be a good start to see if that was the right direction for me.

All I can say is, thank goodness I listened to my mom; they say that “mothers know best!” and I sometimes don’t like to admit it, but my mom usually ends up being right. (Don’t tell her I admitted that!) So I signed up.

So the big day came. My family and I drove up a bumpy road in Pennsylvania and were greeted by enthusiastic group of counselors jumping up and down and welcoming each car that drove by.  The first thing that struck me is that everyone was Asian! It was overwhelming at first, because I have never before been surrounded by so many people at once who looked like me. I have always been one of a handful of Asian kids at any school I have gone to. But the shock soon wore off , and I began meeting everyone. One of the most amazing things about this camp is it is actually easier to make friends because we can relate to each other on a deeper level because we have shared many of the same experiences. We talk about being adopted into a family that is a different race from us, for sure, but we talk about regular stuff, too!

Though a typical day consists of tons of regular camp-type activities (the kind I missed all those summers in the dance studio!), we also had sessions where we talked about issues that are special to people like us. I loved the time I got to spend with “my” kids, listening to stories about their lives, expanding on their own adoption stories, sympathizing with them about the hurtful things people can say (whether they mean to or not) and just being there to provide support. It quickly feels like you are one big family.

Hopefully I have helped kids with their problems by not only sharing my story, but also being able to relate to them and offering new ways I’ve dealt with people when they ask certain questions. I have learned so much from the kids, too.

Even though the adoption sessions were aimed towards the campers, I benefited from them as well.  Since a very young age, I have always struggled with trusting people, but since I started coming to Holt, that’s eased up somewhat. I think that is because Holt gave me a place where people truly understood, at a very deep level, my personal story. I noticed that even my friendships with non-adopted people have gotten stronger since I have been going to Holt.

Holt changed my life – and me — forever. I have attended for the last two years, and I feel like a little kid waiting for Christmas as I wait for August to get here!

So even though injuries are bad news for us dancers, this one did me a real favor, because they landed me at Holt. At camp, I not only discovered people I can truly connect with, but also how much I love working with people. I am now seriously considering majoring in clinical psychology in college. Those fractured shins were a blessing in disguise.

Juliet and newfound friend Grace at Holt Camp

Guest blogger Juliet Meiying Ercolano was born in The People’s Republic of China and joined her “forever family” in the United States when she was six months old.  She is now a high school senior and getting excited to begin a new phase of her life next year at college.  This is her second piece for Don’t We Look Alike?; her first piece, “Why I Forgive,” can be found here.

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