Reprise: A year of living adoptively

Last year around this time, I wrote this piece for NW Kids Magazine. for their November National Adoption Month issue. They just republished it on their website, so I thought I’d share it here as well.

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Written November 2012

Each November, not only does my family get to celebrate National Adoption Month, we get to celebrate the adoption of our precious girl. On November 15, 2011 we brought Lilli home to Portland from Eugene, just five days after we learned we were chosen by Lilli’s birth parents to adopt her. She was five weeks old then. Now she’s a walking, babbling, curious, strong-willed one-year old.

In this first year, we’ve learned so much about adoption.

Adopting a Child

IMG_7359First and most obvious, we have adopted a child. By we, I mean my husband Matt and me. We also includes my parents and Matt’s parents. And our siblings and their kids. And so on. We have all adopted this wonderful little human into our lives, practically in the blink of an eye.

I sometimes marvel at how easy and quickly she was enveloped into our world. How immediate and unconditional my love was and is for her. Our community of family and friends has embraced her so fully. Lilli, at age one, is an intensely well-loved girl. (67 “Likes” on Facebook for her birthday announcement!) She’s our girl. Our daughter. Not, “adopted” daughter. Just, our daughter.

And while that’s absolutely how I feel, it is also true that she is adopted. That is a part of her story and we have pledged to be transparent with her about it. We adopted Lilli in an open adoption, and I’d say we’re on the very open end of the spectrum.

Adopting a Family

Lilli surrounded by Roberts and Tabora Families

Simply put, in an open adoption, the birth mother (and birth father, if he’s in the picture) choose adoptive parents for their birth child. On one end of the open adoption spectrum (sometimes called “semi-open” adoption), birth parent(s) and adoptive parents do not meet. They communicate through some sort of middle entity, an agency or a lawyer, through which information is exchanged. Birth parents may provide basic medical history. Adoptive parents may agree to send photos and a letter once a year. When the child is old enough to choose, they may seek out the birth parent.

Our story is at the other end of the spectrum of open adoption. About six months after we entered the adoption pool (not a very long wait), we got the call from our agency. Heylene, the mother of a one-month old, and the birth father (he’s asked me not to use his name, so I’ll call him “Nick”) chose us to adopt her baby girl. After learning about Heylene and Lilli’s story from the counselor, we made the decision to move forward. The next day we drove to Eugene to meet Heylene and Nick. The following day, we met Lilli for the first time. We hung out with Lilli and Heylene for a few hours, a crash “get-to-know-you” session to see if we were a good match for being in a relationship for the rest of our lives. Imagine going on a blind date with someone where you have three days to decide whether or not to marry each other. That’s pretty much what we did. After three days, Heylene and Nick decided yes, Matt and I were the right people to parent Lilli. And yes, after three days, we were head over heels in love with our Lilli.

Two weeks later, it was Thanksgiving. We invited our new family members, Heylene and Nick to come and spend it with us. Now, a year later, we’ve seen Heylene nearly every other month and Nick about once a quarter. We have no qualms about texting each other notes and photos. Our relationship to Lilli’s birth parents has evolved sweetly and organically.

Don’t get me wrong, it is complicated. Heylene and Nick’s families have varying levels of knowledge of and support for the adoption. Lilli has a half brother we’ve just met for the first time, along with Lilli’s birth grandma and birth great-grandma. (Very intense introduction, but hopefully the beginning of a long and healthy relationship.) Both Heylene and Nick have moved farther away from us. Even with that, the good news is, it’s only just begun. Lilli’s birth family is a part of our family circle, now and forever. and advocate around racial diversity and other issues, this is a community I’m eager to connect with. Much more to learn on that front as Lilli grows older.

Adopting a Community

As soon as we decided to adopt a child, we entered into a dynamic adoption community. We adopted through Open Adoption and Family Services, an agency specializing in and exclusively facilitating and advocating openness in adoption. Through them, we are now a part of a diverse and active community of families waiting to adopt and those who have adopted. We’ve also become a part of the larger “open adoption” community.

In addition, we are now part of the transracial adoption community. As a mixed- race couple (I’m Filipino-American, my husband is Welsh-American, aka “white”), it was inevitable we’d be in a transracial adoption. Lilli is 1⁄4 Panamanian and, at age one, looks very Latina. As a one-time activist and advocate around racial diversity and other issues, this is a community I’m eager to connect with. Much more to learn on that front as Lilli grows older.

What’s more we’ve now joined that larger adoption community, which is extremely diverse and much larger than I knew before we adopted. Adam Pertman wrote in Adoption Nation, “Extrapolating from U.S. Census data, we can guesstimate that there are at least 7 million adopted children and adults in the United States today; add in birth parents adoptive parents, grandparents, siblings… and the number of people directly connected to adoption soars into the tens of millions.”

Pertman also noted, “The Adoption Institute survey showed that nearly six of every ten Americans have had a ‘personal experience’ with adoption… And a stunning one-third of those polled said they had ‘at least somewhat seriously’ considered adopting a child themselves.”

From adults who were adopted in the 1970s internationally from Korea or Vietnam, to those families that have come together through the foster care system, to others who adopted within their own family—there are so many experiences of adoption. At the center of these adoptions are children with concentric circles of loved ones radiating outward.

As my daughter enters her second year, I’ve started thinking about how to talk with Lilli about her story. Tonight, as I snuggled with her in my arms, I quietly relayed to her the whole story of her adoption for the first time. The story still needs some editing, but it felt good to say. Like parenting, adoption will always be a work-in-progress.

Does it get easier?

Update 11/15/2013 6:37pm: With  low food rations in the house and very worn out full-time working parents, we decided to hit our local sushi place for a quick happy hour for dinner. It turned out to be a lovely mellow time (Lilli had her first raw sushi, smoked salmon nigiri!) and an opportunity to celebrate our Entrustment Day. As I talked to Lilli about Entrustment Day these words came out of my mouth: “This is the day that you became a part of our family, and the day your birth parents H & T became a part of our family.”

Matt just smiled across the table at me, knowing that I’d gotten it in his words, and Goldilocks’ “just right.” Just the right sentiment we want for our family’s Entrustment Day.

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Our daughter Lilli recently turned two years old. And today marks our ‘Entrustment Day,’ or at least that’s what we’re calling it for now. Two years ago today, Lilli’s birth parents entrusted Matt and me to be Lilli’s parents. We’d known Lilli and her birth parents H and T for just five days, but on that day we became family.

Two years flew by. It seems like a lifetime, yet we are still so new to being parents and to being in an open adoption relationship. Having peers helps.

There’s a vibrant community of folks at Open Adoption Bloggers. Lots of interesting bloggers from all sides of open adoption. An amazing resource and a great inspiration for my own blogging.

They have a nice series of writing prompts called Open Adoption Roundtable. Their latest prompt: Does it get easier?

Two years seems like hardly enough time to answer the question, yet as I wrote above, we’ve already lived a lifetime. Or several.

I remember that weekend two years ago well. We had the quickest imaginable courtship with Lilli and her birth parents.  Some open adoption families meet their birth parent(s) during the pregnancy. For us, Lilli was four, going on five weeks old. When we met them, all of us knew that we would need to work quickly to get to know each other and see if this relationship was the right fit.

Rewinding a little further in time, I’d like to share how we entered the process. Matt and I chose open adoption – out of all the types of possible adoptions we could have chosen – primarily for one reason. We believe in the idea of having the most open adoption possible. We believe that transparency is honesty. And we believe that honesty is the most ethical way to be in relationship with our child, with our family and friends and with our birth families.

That means we were transparent from the start. We told our counselor as much as we thought could be relevant to the birth parents for our home study. I wrote things in my autobiography that some of my closest friends might not even know. The photo collage we prepared reflected our fun and often goofy personalities. And, according to H and T, that’s why they chose us.

When we finally sat down to get to know H and T and Lilli, we minimized small talk and got right to the real stuff. Though it was awkward and overwhelming and intense and exciting, in some ways it was easy. We just laid our hearts out there on the table right next to theirs. It was all about moving to the next step – placing, or entrusting, Lilli with us – if H and T deemed that was what they wanted for themselves and for Lilli. Everything after placement was a distant future. Those first four days were about getting through day five.

Fast forward to today. Did it get easier in these last two years? So far I’d have to say no. Life is not easy. Relationships are not easy and they are never static. Two years ago, not only did we adopt a daughter, we adopted a whole new family into ours. We added another family to coordinate holidays and visits with. We became parents. We became juggling, full-time working parents. We became parents to an infant. And then a toddler. Lilli’s birth father moved away and hasn’t responded to texts or emails. Lilli’s birth mom is enjoying living on her own, but she’s estranged from her family. Lilli has an older brother who is living with Lilli’s birth grandparents. Lilli is talking now and we realize it’s time to start talking to her about her story.

Okay, I should take it back, a little. Did it get easier in these last two years? It got more complicated. But we are learning to take it easy. To be easier on ourselves. To ease into our days when Lilli is exhibiting cranky-two-year-old vibes. To make easy meals or go out if we just can’t deal. We do less (quantity), which actually means we do more (quality) as a family unit. We take the time and care and nurturing needed to let Lilli assist us with cracking open the eggs, or spread butter on the toast. If we planned to go to the park, but Lilli seems content playing with her babies, we don’t stress out about staying home. If one of us needs adult time, one of us gets adult time with a friend. We continue to be in an open and transparent relationship with birth mom H.

Does it get easier? No. And yes.

Postscript: Thanks to hubby’s feedback, I want to clarify one thing. In responding to the prompt ‘Does it get easier?’ I’m only addressing the time since placement. There’s another question, ‘Does it get easier after adopting?’ I’ll have to get to that in another post.

How to help

Tacloban in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan hit. Credit: Nove foto da Firenze via Flickr.

Note: I will try and update this post as I get new information about fundraisers, relief orgs, etc.

Update: 9:00pm Nov. 13

I learned of two Portland-area support events I thought I’d pass on:

Typhoon Haiyan Candlelight Vigil & Community Briefing
Thursday, November 14
5:30 pm Candlelight Vigil, Skidmore Fountain Plaza
6:00 pm Community Briefing, Mercy Corps Action Center

Fil-Am association of Portland Spaghetti feed Fundraiser
Friday, November 15
6:00 pm Fil-Am Association of Portland, 8917 SE Stark St, Portland

Also, another helpful list on what to donate, this one from the Philippines Red Cross.

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I’ve been touched by the number of friends reaching out to me to find out if I have family affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Yes, I do. The areas hardest hit include the place where my mom grew up. But luckily their hometown was protected from the worst effects. I have several close family members still unaccounted for as well as other distant extended family members who are affected. We’re hopeful, but really won’t know until we can hear from them directly. And my family is just one of millions who are experiencing this. My heart has been breaking watching the news coverage.

Here are two recent reports from different mainstream news outlets:

Distress Grows for Philippine Typhoon Victims Who Can’t Get Aid, or Out (New York Times) – also, they have some multimedia extras including photos (which can be difficult to look at) and maps

Typhoon Haiyan Devastates The Philippines – a landing page for NPR’s series of reports

Many are trying to figure out how they can help. While I don’t feel it’s my place to answer that (I think it’s a personal decision of where you want to put your effort), I will offer some of the resources I know about.

My parents and their friends in my hometown Cleveland Filipino-American community have been organizing and conducting medical missions in the Philippines for over 30 years through their APPO (Association of Philippine Physicians in Ohio) Foundation. I’ve even been on two of these missions myself. APPO is teaming up with their sister organization Philippine American Society of Ohio, a group I was a member of as I grew up in Cleveland. The folks running these orgs are my titas (aunties) and titos (uncles) and my childhood friends. I chose to donate through them because I know personally that they have on-the-ground contacts and are working hard to figure out the most meaningful way to help.

Here in Portland, progressive groups PCHRP and PSU Kaibigan Alumni Advisory Board have teamed up to raise funds through National Alliance For Filipino Concern (NAFCON).

Just found out that Portland’s Fil-Am Center is hosting a spaghetti fundraising dinner on November 15. Though Filipinos tend to have more than enough food at events, still a good idea to RSVP on their Facebook event page.

I also found this article by Jessica Alexander on Slate helpful, about how sending your old shoes is so NOT helpful. She was an aid worker was in Asia after the tsunami:

After the tsunami, similarly well-intentioned people cleaned out their closets, sending boxes of “any old shoes” and other clothing to the countries. I was there after the tsunami and saw what happened to these clothes: Heaps of them were left lying on the side of the road. Cattle began picking at them and getting sick. Civil servants had to divert their limited time to eliminating the unwanted clothes. Sri Lankans and Indonesians found it degrading to be shipped people’s hand-me-downs. I remember a local colleague sighed as we passed the heaps of clothing on the sides of the road and said “I know people mean well, but we’re not beggars.” Boxes filled with Santa costumes, 4-inch high heels, and cocktail dresses landed in tsunami-affected areas. In some places, open tubes of Neosporin, Preparation H, and Viagra showed up. The aid community has coined a term for these items that get shipped from people’s closets and medicine cabinets as SWEDOW—Stuff We Don’t Want.

So, please leave the victims some dignity and do not send SWEDOW. (My only directive.)

If you’re more of a visual person, the HowStuffWorks folks put together a slideshow on the 10 Worst Things to Donate After a Disaster.

More of a list person?  NBC has a roundup of web links to relief organizations.

First time at Veteran’s Day Parade

Update Nov. 12 8:00 a.m.: OPB has a pretty sweet slideshow of the Ross Hollywood Chapel Veterans Day Parade here.

(Eked this out in the final hours of the day. Have I mentioned that I’m NaBloPoMo-ing?)

Took Lilli to her very first parade today.

Lilli and her 'baby' Tito Eric watching the parade process down Sandy Blvd.

Lilli and her ‘baby’ Tito Eric watching the parade process down Sandy Blvd.

The annual Ross Hollywood Chapel Veterans Day Parade has been going on here since 1974. It’s the only such parade in Portland If you’re wondering why this event happens in the Hollywood neighborhood of all places in Portland, I did too. The official website shares this history:

Portland’s only Veterans Day parade started in 1974. Vernon E. Ross, proprietor of Ross Hollywood Funeral Chapel, founded this parade to honor all veterans, past and present, living and deceased.

Vernon, a veteran himself, served as a medic at the Veterans Hospital in Vancouver, Washington during World War I. In World War II, he served as a captain in the Veterans Guard & Patrol. Vernon was very active in many veteran organizations such as the American Legion Post No. 1, Forty & Eight Voiture No. 25, Portland Barracks No. 53 of the Veterans of World War I and the Last Man’s Club.

Vernon E. Ross purchased a small triangular piece of land for $19,000 in front of his Ross Hollywood Funeral Chapel and erected a flag pole with a planter. He said, “I wanted to do something to honor veterans of all wars, because ‘patriotism’ has dropped to the lowest level ever.”

As I was driving to the coffee shop today I caught some of a Think Out Loud rebroadcast about a forthcoming World War II veterans memorial. At one point the guest Lou Jaffe, who is heading up the effort and a Vietnam vet himself, spoke nostalgically as he described one of the goals for the project:

“This memorial will have a very innovative educational component, so that future generations can learn from the experiences of a generation where our nation was unified in its purpose, was singular in its goal. And what it was like when everybody shared in the sacrifice to prevail in a world war,” said Jaffe.

These days it is quite different. If politics is any indication, our country is bitterly divided. And it’s way more complicated than that, more complicated than I can address in a short blog post.

And as Jaffe works towards erecting his World War II memorial, I’d like to reiterate why my neighborhood parade was created back in 1974. As I quoted above, founder Vernon Ross said, “I wanted to do something to honor veterans of all wars, because ‘patriotism’ has dropped to the lowest level ever.” Two men fighting the same fight, 40 years apart.

My two-year old Lilli enjoyed the parade. She even got into waving at all the folks marching, driving, trotting by. Not surprising for anyone with a toddler, her favorites included the various motorcycle groups, the marching bands (“I want more drums, Mommy!”) and anything involving a siren. Among my favorites were the Patriot Pin Ups (I know, right?), the awesome dudes in the cherry red motorcycle with side car and the Beaumont Middle School Marching Band (imho, the best band in the parade, complete with tuxedo t-shirts).

Check out some of my photos here.

Seeing the different groups walk by reminded me that veterans, as with any defined group, represent diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

Thank you to all our veterans for your service and your sacrifice. And a special shout out to my family and friends who have served or continue to serve.

Coal coming through the Northwest + multimedia storytelling

The environmental news team I work with, EarthFix, won a bunch of awards for this year’s SPJ Northwest Excellence in Journalism contest. Yay us! We even took the top two spots for our special/enterprise online reporting on the proposed Northwest export projects and the anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

Though it wasn’t part of our 2012 Northwest coal coverage (we’ll submit the ongoing series again for 2013), our multimedia special Voice of Coal came directly out of the traditional news reporting the team had done. If you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, let me tell you – these coal proposals are very controversial, pitting environmentalists against labor unions, public health officials and politicians against job creators, and folks on all ends of the spectrum. ‘Voices’ was our effort to bring real people’s voices and first-hand experience to the forefront, but always with the backdrop of well-reported journalism on the topic.

Though I don’t often have time to create content for EarthFix myself (I mostly do community engagement, events and social media), I had the opportunity to pitch in for this. Here are two audio slideshows I produced as part of the ‘Voices of Coal’ project:

It’s a pretty exciting time to be doing digital media and storytelling. We were very inspired by the Climate Wisconsin project for Voices of Coal. I’ve since seen some great interactive multimedia/transmedia projects (using video, audio, photos, text) including Black Gold Boom, about the big oil boom in North Dakota, and Reinvention Stories, looking at the identity crisis and ultimate efforts to reinvent the city of Dayton Ohio. Both those projects were part of some public media experiments called Localore. And of course there’s the epic, sublime experience of consuming Snow Fall: The Avalanche At Tunnel Creek. There you go. Now you’ve got several sittings worth of excellent transmedia storytelling to geek out on.

Every day adoption

I think about adoption every day. It’s not like I’m dwelling on it. But, it’s a fact of my life and a part of my identity now. When I became an adoptive aunt by through my husband’s family years back, I became much more sensitive to adoption issues. And now being an adoptive parent, it’s become another filter to my worldview. Just like my reality as a working mom, as an Asian American woman, and other pieces of my identity that confront daily life, I can’t help but see adoption in so many things around me.

Adam Pertman's Adoption NationFor one, I’ve got Adoption Nation by Adam Pertman as my bedtime reading. (I’m about halfway through. Once I’m finished I’ll write more about the book. I have some thoughts, but already definitely consider it a ‘must read.’) Each night I close the book, shut my eyes and I’m left with some sort of thought provoked about the world of adoption or how adoption has impacted society.

And as Pertman notes in his book, many, many people are somehow touched by adoption in this country:

Extrapolation from U.S.Census data, we can guesstimate that there are at least 7 million adopted children and adults in the United States today; add in birth parents, adoptive parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, and the number of people directed connected to adoption soars into the tens of millions.

Aside from my choice to think specifically about adoption, this week the topic of adoption has come up in my media consumption.

My friend Ed posted this touching story on Facebook about a gay couple who adopted a baby they literally found in a subway station, and then eventually… actually I don’t want to spoil the story so go read the post. And have some tissues on hand. Ed is gay man with a long time partner. As far as I know (and as far as he’s let on in his status updates) he has no intention of having a child. My point here is that Ed’s interest in the story (I’m guessing) was his identifying with the gay couple and the sheer drama of the story. And there just happened to be an adoption angle.

The other adoption connections this week are about adoptees from Korea.

Kristen Kish

The first happened to be on the finale of one of my favorite shows, Top Chef. Again, I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t watched the episode. Kristen, one of the bad ass finalists (both awesome women chefs, yeehah!), was adopted at age 4 from Korea. In a touching “confessional” moment, Kristen talks about wanting to visit Korea if she wins Top Chef (the winner receives $125,000):

“The one thing I do miss is seeing two people that look like me… I just need to see where I came from.”

The other adoptee moment came when I read my neighborhood paper, the Hollywood Star News. It’s a feel-good story from the nearby Northeast Community Center, about a young man who grew up going to the center named Henry Meece. Meece, a developmentally disabled adult, competed as a snowboarder in the Special Olympics World Games which took place in South Korea. It just so happens Meece was born in Seoul, Korea and then adopted at six months by a Portland couple. A sweet story.

I recognize that I am more aware of adoption stories now that I’m an adoptive mom, but it does seem true – adoptive families are everywhere! And they each have such a unique and complicated story.

One thing I’ll be more on the hunt for, though, are stories that reveal the complexities of adoptions with some measure of openness. Do you know of articles, novels, tv programs, movies that show open adoption stories? If so, please share in the comments, so I can try and check it out.

One of the main lenses Pertman’s ‘Adoption Nation’ explores is the revolutionary change in adoptions caused by the opening of adoptions. A study from the Donaldson Adoption Institute says that the vast majority of adoptions today have some level of openness. Yet my experience has been that people are still generally very uncomfortable with the idea. I’ll tackle some of that topic in a future post.

Attention KBOO Members – Exercise your privilege and vote in the Board elections!

Some of you who know me may or may not know about the circumstances around my recent lay off from KBOO Community Radio. I’ve decided there’s no reason to hash any of it out here (it’s being well-hashed elsewhere and who knows, it may be fodder for a satirical short film someday). I’m still a proud member and active volunteer at the station.

And since I no longer work at KBOO, I can feel free to say how I feel about some of the folks who are currently running for KBOO’s Board of Directors. If you are not a member of KBOO Community Radio then join now and support grassroots, locally crafted, non-commercial media. If you are, then you’ve probably received your official 2009 KBOO Voters’ Guide and Ballot in the mail. Don’t forget send in your completed ballot or deliver it to the KBOO Annual Membership Meeting on Saturday, September 26, by 2pm. The Annual Meeting takes place at Liberty Hall, 311 N. Ivy St.

Hell yeah!
The reason I’m endorsing the following folks is because I think they are all excellent people whose unique and thoughtful perspectives will help propel KBOO forward during a time of needed change, revolution and evolution. I’m also pleased to note that each of the candidates I’m endorsing are women of color. Where else in Portland you gonna get that kind of slate?

Keller Henry – I’ve worked some with Keller and can attest to the fact that she is a hard-worker, bright and energetic. Though she’s only been with KBOO a short time, she’s shown incredible commitment and enthusiasm. Her experience as an activist and perspective as a queer Haitian-American would be a valuable asset to KBOO and the Board.

Nia Lewis – I’ve worked with Nia a bunch and she kicks ass! She has been serving on the board over the past year in one of the appointed positions and has proven her worth as a committed and savvy board member. As a young African American woman she brings a much-needed perspective as KBOO continues to grow inclusive of diverse voices.

Paul Small – Paula is extremely savvy and exceptionally committed. In her short time at KBOO she’s already taken on the role of Board Treasurer (she was appointed to the board at the last meeting after serving on the Finance Committee over the past few months). With her experience in accounting and non-profits, her enthusiasm and grounding energy she will continue to be a strong addition to the board.

Mimi Villarqui – Mimi is a talented and enthusiastic KBOO volunteer who’s been doing KBOO events and serving on the Development Committee over the past year. Her interest in marketing/outreach combined with her commitment to community radio make her a huge asset to the KBOO board.

Please, no!
I implore you to please NOT vote for the following candidates:

Scott Forrester
and Michael Papadopoulos – They are in the process of suing KBOO. More of that story here.

Now you’ve got my $.02. Go forth and vote!