Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption..

by Marisha

Tara Bradford has initiated an exciting new series on her blog. As an adoptee and an adoptive mother, she has a wealth of experience from both perspectives which can inspire and enrich the rest of us. Follow the link below to read her description.

Thank you, Tara!

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption...

Tara Bradford

Tara Bradford

You Can’t Always Trust a Kid’s Reaction

by Luanne

The other day I had a discussion with a few people on our Facebook page about an article in Adoption Voices Magazine that guest blogger Lisa posted.

But this blog post isn’t about that article—it’s about where my mind ended up.

As the conversation went on, the mention of race in adoption came up, and as my mind usually works, I was soon off on my own mental tangent.

I remembered a story our case worker had shared with us during our first home study. She was very good about bringing up issues, such as race and forming a transracial (called interracial in those days) family. The story went that a Korean boy was adopted by a white couple in the Midwest. They raised him in an area which happened to have very few Asians—so few, in fact, that the boy grew to be seven or eight and he had never seen another Asian. One day he watched a television show about the Japanese, and he laughed and made a derogatory comment about their looks. That’s when his parents understood that he didn’t realize he was Asian.

Her story made an impression on me and on my husband, and we knew that our children needed to be helped to understand and develop their own identities.

However, when our son Marc was in 4th grade, my analysis of the case worker’s story added a new layer of complexity.

I believe that it’s possible that the child did know at some level what he looked like and that he was “different” from those around him.

Here’s what happened. One night Marc was reading his homework on the floor of the family room and started laughing. I asked him what was so funny.

He kept laughing and pointed to a passage in the book. I read it and . . . you know that expression, my blood ran cold? It did.

Marc was reading an assigned book, The Story of Doctor Doolittle. Have you read this book? If you’re white, have you read an original version in recent years, with an enlightened view of race, or as a kid “back in the day”? If you’re not white, what did you think or feel when you read it?

There is a character in the book called Bumpo, the African prince. The way he is portrayed—both in text and illustration is clearly racist. In fact, Bumpo wishes to be white so he can marry Sleeping Beauty.

Marc’s school, the best private school in our town, was literature-based and founded on principles developed by Mae Carden in the thirties. The school hadn’t veered much from the decades-old curriculum and this book was on that curriculum.

I was more upset upon discovering what Marc was reading than anything that had happened up to that point about my kids. I felt betrayed by the school. When Marc started at the school there weren’t many minorities there, although each year more and more attended and by the time he was in the middle school grades, there were many Asian and Latino and some African-American children at the school.

I felt sad that Marc had to read something so racist, provided to him by adults he trusted.

I felt angry at the school.

I felt confused that, although Marc had been raised to respect people of all races and he knew he himself was of a minority race (in his community), he was laughing.

Although I’m dead set against book censorship, there is a big difference between banning books from libraries and choosing the best possible selections for curriculum.

So I called the school, of course, to complain. I met with immediate resistance and deflection. They had me speak to the teacher who assured me that Marc had not had a problem with it at all when they read it in class.  It was a humorous passage, the class had found it funny, and they had all laughed. I was making a mountain out of a molehill.

Think about that a minute. OK, think about it after you get around that pissed off feeling you’re experiencing right now.  He had already read that passage in school. So why was he reading it at home and laughing at it?

When I asked him why he was laughing and expressed my dismay at the overt racism, he gave me the “it’s no big deal” reaction and indicated I was over-reacting.

I concluded that he wanted to draw my attention to the passage to help him sort out his own feelings, but he was unable to be direct about it because he himself was confused and disturbed deep inside.

Later, I further concluded that as one of the only minority kids in his class at that time, he was embarrassed and wanted to show the other kids that he wasn’t different from them. That he wasn’t, in fact, the African prince.  That he didn’t have to wish he was white to marry Sleeping Beauty because he was already white, just like them.

That’s why I think that the story about the Korean boy responding negatively upon seeing his first Asians is more complex than on first thought.  On one level, the boy identified so strongly with his Caucasian family and community that he didn’t understand what he was seeing. But on some other level, he did know he was different and that being different was a very uncomfortable place for him to be.  A way to get around thinking of himself as different was to make other non-Caucasians the “Other.” (If you wonder why somebody could have knowledge and not have knowledge at the same time, you haven’t met anybody in denial ;)!)

What happened with the school and the book?  Because the school was sensitive to attempts at book banning, they made me fight them on the issue. But a compromise was effected when I presented them with a fully researched alternative list of books which had some of the same positive characteristics as the book in question and none of the racism.

One last thing. I want to make clear that even as this incident was happening, the school had already begun to change in positive ways as the administration and some teachers were replaced and the demographics of the city changed.  Although it had always been the best choice for my kids in our town, it became a much stronger and more inclusive school than it had been originally. I don’t want you to think I’m writing this to bash the school that caused my children much happiness.

Adoption Comes Straight from the Heart: A Book Review

by Luanne

(Originally posted August 13, 2012)

I felt driven to review this book because the title made me so uncomfortable.   I can’t imagine saying to Marc or Marisha, when they were little ones, “Sit with Mom.  I want to read you this great book called My Adopted Child, There’s No One Like You.”  I have never called them “my adopted children” and can’t imagine ever doing so.  They were–and still are, at 27 and 24–my kids.  And I am their mom.  My husband is their dad.  When the kids want to explain to people, they will say, “Yeah, I’m adopted.”  And that’s basically how I answer people, too.  I would never even think of saying, “This is my adopted son, Marc.”  So to say that the title put me off is an understatement.

Nevertheless, since the book was written by Dr. Kevin Leman, a psychologist and New York Times best-selling author, I wanted to see what was inside.  The book is one in a series of “birth order books.”  There are other volumes which deal with being firstborn, only child, middle child, and youngest child.  I will admit that the idea of adding in a book for the adopted child is a good idea, although children who have been adopted can be found in all “positions” within the family.

When I opened the book I discovered that the illustrations, by Dr. Leman’s son Kevin Leman II, are very clear, entertaining, and colorful.  They aren’t the sort of art which wins the Caldecott Medal, but they are pictures which illustrate well the story.  This book has a lot of text on every other page; it’s broken up by a full-page illustration opposite each one.

It turns out that I did enjoy the story and even teared up at one point–that was where Mama Bear tells her little boy, Panda, “‘You were born right here,’ and she touched her furry chest with her paw.”  The heartfelt sentiment and love between Panda and his mother and father is palpable.  That makes this book very worthwhile.

The story is a little specific.  Panda’s birth mother was a young panda — beautiful, kind, and loving.  The bears were able to meet Panda’s birth mother, so Mama can personally tell Panda about her.  Let’s face it, every adoption story is a little different.  So in books about adoption we are apt to get different stories.  The more stories kids read, the richer their minds and their lives.  That’s why I don’t consider the specificity a negative.  And there are other adoption books which are even more specific, if that is what you are looking for.  The question that lingers for me: if a child whose birth mother is unknown (and perhaps unknowable) is first exposed to this book or if it’s the only book he or she reads, how would that part of this story affect him or her?

The underlying plot situation is that Panda’s teacher asks her students to draw their family trees.  This is a common assignment in American schools, so it’s a very real issue for many children who have been adopted.  It’s handled well, even with a bit of an open ending, which keeps the book more appealing to a wider range of readers.

Whether this is a book about transracial adoptions or all adoptions, I think it depends on how you read it.  At one point, Mama Bear explains that Panda is a black and white bear and she and Papa are brown bears.  This can be seen as a racial metaphor.  However, many adoptees go through a period where they may feel different from the others in the family. Because the characters are animals, it frees up the child’s mind to read the book as it makes sense to him or her.

A very small note is that on the first page we learn the teacher’s name is Mrs. Racoonaroni.  This sounds humorous when read aloud, but to a beginning reader it looks daunting on the page.

All in all, the book makes a valuable contribution to the subject of adoption.   Because of its position in the series of “birth order” books, the author or editor titled the book My Adopted Child, There’s No One Like You to be clear about the readership for which it aimed.  I’ve tried to come up with some other titles which would be more palatable to me and still fit within the series.  My Chosen Child? Um, I don’t think so. My Child (by Adoption)?  Not much better.  Maybe you have some good suggestions, but that doesn’t change the title on the cover.

Would I place this book on our family bookshelf?  Yes, but not without other books about adoption.  When a child asks me to read the book, I will put the emphasis on There’s No One Like You.

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

Charmed Life?

by Luanne

One day, when Marisha was a young teen, I overheard a teacher say to her, “You lead a charmed life.”  At the time I felt a little fist pound my stomach, but I wasn’t sure why.  I had to schlep her to an activity and didn’t take the time to really think through the comment. Certainly, compared with so many people in this world, Marisha lived a relatively happy life with plenty of good food, education, doctor appointments, pretty clothes, and opportunities to pursue her goals.

It was only later, when I’d had time to process what she’d said, that I began to belatedly understand why I was upset and where I had gone wrong.

I’ve been a mom like most mothers I know—one who has kept putting one foot in front of the other in order to get done everything on the daily to-do list.  If I stopped or slowed down, we would never get it all accomplished, so I just kept trudging.  Most of the time, I’m pretty mild-mannered.  But mess with my kid, and I turn into Mama Bear.  If you’re a mom, you probably have been a Mama Bear yourself.  If you’re not a mom, you’ve no doubt been embarrassed by a Mama Bear once or twice.

There have been a couple of times where I morphed into that big blustering Mama Bear (think Grizzly) when I felt my kids were treated unfairly in a way that was harmful to their psyches as adoptees.  I expect other adults to act like villagers and look out for children who are adopted.

Some people have been absolutely sensitive and thoughtful.  When I started graduate school in California, Marisha began attending preschool at the campus daycare.  It was her first time in a school setting, but she seemed to be fine when I left her each morning.  What I found out later, was that she cried pitifully without stopping as soon as I left the building.  I was, in effect, her third mother, after her birth mother and foster mother (who took care of her the first 3.5 months of her life), and I was leaving her to go to class.

Her wonderful teacher, Mrs. Abey (Elaine Abeyguneratne), gave her special care, having Marisha sit at her side each morning, creating school as a warm and special place where Marisha could learn to be away from me.  Elaine never told me what went on until much later.  She was afraid that I would drop out of school, and she was looking out for the welfare of an adoptee.

Something happened a few years after that, when Marisha was in first grade, that turned me into a Mama Bear, but it’s only years later that I finally understand what I wish I had realized all along.

Marisha had a new religious school teacher and she bonded with her very quickly and very thoroughly.  Within a couple of months, though, the teacher suddenly decided to leave because she had a disagreement with the director of the school.  I went to her after class and begged her to stay.  I explained to her that leaving so quickly, without warning, was traumatic to an adoptee like Marisha.  She couldn’t be persuaded to stay, but another parent overheard what I said.

This parent exploded, railing at me for using the word “traumatic.”  She said that Marisha didn’t know what trauma was and that I shouldn’t use the word so lightly.  That her stepchildren knew trauma as their mother had died a couple years before from cancer.  She was definitely correct that her stepchildren had undergone a trauma which no child should ever have to go through and which many, unfortunately, do go through.  Losing their mother to illness will have a bearing on the rest of their lives.  My initial feeling was compassion for the children and embarrassment at being taken to task.

But this woman’s manner and assumptions were outrageous.  I told myself I was miffed because she was yelling at me unfairly and I was embarrassed because I didn’t even know she was in the room when I was talking to the teacher.

What I didn’t put together until much later was how absolutely clueless so many people are about adoption.  Until I realized this I just assumed that adults would understand what adoption is and how it might affect adoptees to be adopted.  That, in fact, being adopted means that a person has gone through at least one huge and initial trauma in their lives.  This happens to them long before most people experience their first trauma.

When I look back at the years of raising my children, I do regret making the assumption that the adults in their lives understand that adoption doesn’t just mean that my kids and their parents don’t look alike.  I see now that the understanding many people have of adoption is literally skin deep (or as superficial as different noses and body types).  If only I had figured this out before and tried to educate, instead of assuming.

Adoption is a complex relationship which needs to be understood as such and not filed away as a minor and odd fact about someone, as if it is left-handedness or athletic ability.  To understand that relationship is a responsibility and obligation of society, not just those of us in adoptive families.

“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.

Adoption Comes Straight from the Heart: A Book Review

by Luanne

I felt driven to review this book because the title made me so uncomfortable.   I can’t imagine saying to Marc or Marisha, when they were little ones, “Sit with Mom.  I want to read you this great book called My Adopted Child, There’s No One Like You.”  I have never called them “my adopted children” and can’t imagine ever doing so.  They were–and still are, at 27 and 24–my kids.  And I am their mom.  My husband is their dad.  When the kids want to explain to people, they will say, “Yeah, I’m adopted.”  And that’s basically how I answer people, too.  I would never even think of saying, “This is my adopted son, Marc.”  So to say that the title put me off is an understatement.

Nevertheless, since the book was written by Dr. Kevin Leman, a psychologist and New York Times best-selling author, I wanted to see what was inside.  The book is one in a series of “birth order books.”  There are other volumes which deal with being firstborn, only child, middle child, and youngest child.  I will admit that the idea of adding in a book for the adopted child is a good idea, although children who have been adopted can be found in all “positions” within the family.

When I opened the book I discovered that the illustrations, by Dr. Leman’s son Kevin Leman II, are very clear, entertaining, and colorful.  They aren’t the sort of art which wins the Caldecott Medal, but they are pictures which illustrate well the story.  This book has a lot of text on every other page; it’s broken up by a full-page illustration opposite each one.

It turns out that I did enjoy the story and even teared up at one point–that was where Mama Bear tells her little boy, Panda, “‘You were born right here,’ and she touched her furry chest with her paw.”  The heartfelt sentiment and love between Panda and his mother and father is palpable.  That makes this book very worthwhile.

The story is a little specific.  Panda’s birth mother was a young panda — beautiful, kind, and loving.  The bears were able to meet Panda’s birth mother, so Mama can personally tell Panda about her.  Let’s face it, every adoption story is a little different.  So in books about adoption we are apt to get different stories.  The more stories kids read, the richer their minds and their lives.  That’s why I don’t consider the specificity a negative.  And there are other adoption books which are even more specific, if that is what you are looking for.  The question that lingers for me: if a child whose birth mother is unknown (and perhaps unknowable) is first exposed to this book or if it’s the only book he or she reads, how would that part of this story affect him or her?

The underlying plot situation is that Panda’s teacher asks her students to draw their family trees.  This is a common assignment in American schools, so it’s a very real issue for many children who have been adopted.  It’s handled well, even with a bit of an open ending, which keeps the book more appealing to a wider range of readers.

Whether this is a book about transracial adoptions or all adoptions, I think it depends on how you read it.  At one point, Mama Bear explains that Panda is a black and white bear and she and Papa are brown bears.  This can be seen as a racial metaphor.  However, many adoptees go through a period where they may feel different from the others in the family. Because the characters are animals, it frees up the child’s mind to read the book as it makes sense to him or her.

A very small note is that on the first page we learn the teacher’s name is Mrs. Racoonaroni.  This sounds humorous when read aloud, but to a beginning reader it looks daunting on the page.

All in all, the book makes a valuable contribution to the subject of adoption.   Because of its position in the series of “birth order” books, the author or editor titled the book My Adopted Child, There’s No One Like You to be clear about the readership for which it aimed.  I’ve tried to come up with some other titles which would be more palatable to me and still fit within the series.  My Chosen Child? Um, I don’t think so. My Child (by Adoption)?  Not much better.  Maybe you have some good suggestions, but that doesn’t change the title on the cover.

Would I place this book on our family bookshelf?  Yes, but not without other books about adoption.  When a child asks me to read the book, I will put the emphasis on There’s No One Like You.

Taxi Driver

by Nina Schidlovsky

“Japanese women are so beautiful,” the Hong Kong taxi driver said. He slowed the cab suddenly to admire two willowy women gliding by. Their stiletto heels pushed them towards heaven. “Not like Filipina women,” the driver continued. “Filipino women are dirty and ugly.”

The hair on the back of my neck bristled. Instantly, Mom’s arms crushed me in a protective embrace. I thought of the wonderful Filipina woman who lived with us as a helper, and the thousands of other Filipinos who worked in Hong Kong, where we’d been living for two years.

“I’m Filipina,” I replied flatly.

I watched the rear view mirror as the taxi driver’s eyes widened. He bumbled and fumbled his apologies but his words fell between the seat cushions—heavy, forced, and laden with deserved embarrassment.

I was nine years old, and that was the first time I’d encountered any form of racism with my mom right beside me – though I had had some unpleasant encounters with bratty schoolmates. Since before I can even remember, my Caucasian mother had told me I was beautiful and to be proud of my different skin color and heritage.

But I’m not going to lie. Sometimes I wasn’t proud of it. For awhile all I wanted to be was a fair-skinned blonde, blue-eyed all-American girl. I remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror, and shutting my eyes so tightly that I saw spots. I wished as hard as I could that when I opened my brown eyes, blue would be staring back at me.

Thankfully, this was a phase that I got over. By the time Mom and I got in that taxi, I knew I was beautiful even though I was different from the rest of my family and from my early picture of perfection.

Mom and I were in the middle of Hong Kong, a 10-minute drive from home. I’d verbally stood my ground with the taxi driver. But no way were we going to let him off that easily – or let him get his full fare. “Pull over,” Mom demanded. She tossed a couple of wadded-up bills at him, grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the cab.

I don’t remember the taxi driver who took us the rest of the way home. But I do remember the one whose racism strengthened my pride and sense of self.

Nina, Lennie, John & Corky in Hong Kong

He’s Just Not That into You . . . or Your Race

by Marisha

I attended a private Carden curriculum school from kindergarten through eighth grade. It was a cozy school, very small, with nothing but a small green field track and some fixed-up gray trailers we used for classes. I loved every minute of it.

School Grounds

The Fixed-Up Buildings and Playground

There was this boy who I will call “Dan,” in the interest of discretion. I grew up with him, we had play dates at each other’s houses, even played “house” where we would pretend to be husband and wife in his parents’ bedroom and imagine we lived in a beautiful house and made lots of money. He was a really nice kid, so cute, and he seemed to like me! We got along and I made all the girls jealous. We used to write notes back and forth:  “Do you like me? Circle yes or no.” I always made a box for “maybe.” I was a heartbreaker back then. Clearly, we were meant to be.

As we got to middle school, we had moved on from our crushes on one another and were great friends. By then, I had found two other guys I was sure I was going to marry. I guess I was a romantic even back then.

Middle school was a great time for me. I was extremely accepted, with lots of friends.  There were plenty of boys who thought I was the bee’s knees ;). I was never discriminated against, and I never felt that “different” feeling that I seem to feel so often now.

Middle School Performing Arts

The School Play

The situation happened after school one day in 8th grade. We were waiting for our parents to pick us up.  To kill time I asked Dan how he and his “girlfriend” Lauren were doing. He gave a short, nondescript answer, so I joked, “Well, she better not be better than when I was your girlfriend.” I thought I was funny, even though secretly, I wanted confirmation from him.

But no confirmation followed. Instead, he responded, “Well, I like her more because she’s blonde.”

… ummm what??? How did that have anything to do with liking someone?? Was that a dig at my ethnicity or a dig at my character? I was so confused I didn’t really know how to respond, so I just stayed silent. And like most boys, he continued….

“I mean, come on, Marisha. I’m only into blondes and brunettes. That’s just who I see myself with in my future.”

I remained silent.

“Hey, I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings. I still think you are really cool.”

I can’t repeat what I was thinking.  The only thing I could mutter was “Well, I’m brunette.”

He should have just shut his mouth, but he put the icing on the cake with, “Well, yeah, but you’re not white.”

I walked away. We ended up going to the same high school, but I never really spoke to him again.

Looking back, I realize he was young.  The best part is he probably doesn’t remember even saying that. But to say it didn’t initiate my struggle with looking different from the “blondes and brunettes” would be a lie. It was my first experience with “discrimination,” not to mention the hurt caused because it was from a good friend of mine. That SAME friend who I used to play “house” with. What irony. Ignorance is the only thing I can pinpoint. I’ll never forget that experience, but it prepared me for a lot of experiences that were coming in my future.

I feel that I have a little stigma now.  I always assume that guys are looking at my friends and not me. But I know I’m being insecure in those moments. Still, I am confident and NOT afraid to share the skeletons in my closet. MORE TO COME ….

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