Functional Dysfunction

Sometimes while in the middle of a storm you don’t realize how chaotic or dysfunctional a situation is. It is like the saying of hindsight is 20/20, when we reflect back on certain situations or interactions we may be able to see that something wasn’t right or “normal”. The further you are away from something the more clearly you are able to see it.

In December, I went to see my therapist. There were a couple of situations from the beginning of the month that had sent my anxiety over the edge and I went to check in with her. Since it had been four months since I had last seen or spoken to her there was a lot of catching up to do.

During our conversation we discussed a few things that had gone on recently and a few other things that were upcoming. I casually mentioned to her that I was just in shock that a bourbon society a couple of states away that my uncle (my mom’s cousin) belongs too started a team for their local ALS walk and they will be walking and raising money in memory of my dad. She asked me why I was in so much shock. I told her that my only connection to this society was my uncle and that although they had sponsored my team in the Upstate, I didn’t expect them to create a local team and do the same.

Her response was something I don’t think I will ever forget, her response was simply that I was not used to people acting “normal”, that I had become accustomed to the dysfunction around me and was not able to recognize “normal”. That’s when it hit me. I had become conditioned to believe what had previously surrounded me was “normal”. The reality is that I didn’t really know anything different, certain behaviors, phrases and attitudes I had just assumed were “normal”.  Yet here I am in my early 30’s starting to learn that I was mistaken, that life and families are functional, dysfunctional, functionally dysfunctional and everything in between.

Functional dysfunction stops here.

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Nothing Short of a Christmas Miracle

I have been debating when or even how to write about this. The last week or so has put me into a zombie-like state. My children’s dad said I have “pregnancy brain”. For the life of me I cannot get words out of my mouth, I forget what things or called or even how to speak. If you know me, you know this is typically not the problem. No, I am not pregnant. The emotional roller coaster I have been on and continue to be on isn’t anything short of a miracle.

For those that have been following my journey, I lost my father in October 2017. Since then and prior too then, I had an ever growing rift primarily with members of my family.

A couple of years ago, I start searching for my biological family. I began searching for my birth mom (omma) since it seemed the easiest place to start. My adoption paperwork from Korea has bits and pieces of her story. According to my paperwork I have where she grew up and part of her childhood, mirrored some of mine. Eventually when she was 20, she gave birth to me and I was immediately relinquished for adoption. That’s it. No mention of who my birth father (appa) at all.

Fast forward to March of this year, after contacting an organization I finally had a lead on my omma. This lead seemed very creditable because she was the only woman in the country with a matching name and birthday as the woman on my paperwork. However upon meeting her, my hopes were dashed and I find out that as much as she wanted too, she was not my omma. She wished me well, told me I grew up beautifully and that my omma should be proud.

I thought my journey ended there. After that there wasn’t much more to do than to leave my DNA as a “missing” person in Korea, and hope there eventually would be a match. This has to guarantee. Because my paperwork had so many details, the retired police officer, current professor said he was willing to go to where she grew up and ask the elders if they knew her name/location.

Although I left Korea with unanswered questions, I knew emotionally I may not have been able to handle a blunt rejection. After much time and therapy, I had to walk away from the search. It was emotionally tolling and the amount of unanswered questions and different scenarios could drive a person mad. During the summer a lot of adoptees go back to Korea, it is usually when the organizations that help adoptees is bombarded by requests. It was at this time I decided to take a step back. I stopped following up and being diligent on searching for omma.

I emailed my contact a couple of times, and didn’t learn anything new. Slowly I was coming to terms that this would be the end of the search and I was working through accepting that my questions may remain unanswered.

A couple of days after my launch party I receive an email from my contact. Something that I never thought I would ever read. It said that a man was found who is presumed to be my birth father and this professor/retired cop wanted to bring me to meet him. I screamed in the middle of the email. I scared my kids so much they started consoling me as if I was tragically hurt. Of course o couldn’t hold back my emotions and tears ran down my cheeks. This didn’t help, my poor children were convinced I was hurting. I told them it was happy thoughts, that they had most likely found my biological father.

I became numb. I didn’t know how to react. This mystery man had a name and location. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think the possibility of finding him would happen. Since I have zero documentation regarding my birth father I either assumed my omma didn’t know or there was another legitimate reason why he was kept off of my birth certificate. The number of questions that ran through my head were endless. I wanted to know every little detail nothing too big or too small was insignificant at this point. My mind needed every single question answered. Of course I immediately wrote back stating I wasn’t sure when I would be back but that I will be back to Korea as soon as I am able.

Upon asking how this man was found, the response was “trade secret” and that was the end of that. I will admit I was a little disappointed but for the first time my appa had a name and a location. This is still mind blowing.

Some of my best friends have graciously started a GoFundMe to help get me to Korea as soon as possible. The money I had to go was used on my last trip and I was most likely planning to go back at the end of next summer but those plans were not set in stone.

After hearing all of this new information, I need to get to Korea ASAP. It is unbelievable that this miracle has happened. There is no other way to explain this, especially a couple of weeks before Christmas. I have included the link here if you feel led to donate, please do. Thoughts and prayers for this part of my journey are just as appreciated. Thank you. I will be keeping everyone posted on the start of this journey.

Always,

J

What?! I can’t be racist…

Growing up not physically looking like my family created some challenges. There were moments in my childhood and beyond where I fell victim to racial slurs and comments. One Christmas while I was home from college there was a discussion of interracial relationships. My stepmother said that it would be “taboo” to bring home a black man, the look on my face must have given her an indication I was confused. Her response was how her family isn’t racist but…by that point I had stopped listening. I was furious. EVERY RELATIONSHIP I was in WAS an interracial relationship. Last time I looked in the mirror I wasn’t white…but I also apparently didn’t count as a person of color (POC). My parents stated that it would be weird if I brought home, someone of another race, even though I’m not white. It always struck me as odd and I tried not to take it personally but how couldn’t I? I am a person of color.

I was raised in a home that didn’t “see color”. Where I was taught that it was on the inside that counts. The truth was is that people DO SEE color, it is one of the first things we notice whether we want to admit it or not. Though it does not define us, it sure as hell matters how we identify ourselves, we see ourselves as POC. While those around my chose not to see color I was aware of it constantly. In school, while learning about the Civil Rights Movement and Japanese internment camps my parents would reassure me that society had made progress since that time and they do not care what color I am. It does matter. As a POC, whether my family sees it or not, my struggles are different than theirs.

Funny thing is that you CAN be a racist even though you have POC as friends or you yourself are a POC, they are not mutually exclusive. Just because you know a POC, are a POC or raised a POC but still, have racist thoughts or feelings STILL MAKES YOU RACIST. I’ve heard excuses like I don’t count because I’m a “Twinkie” (that’s a whole other discussion) because I know this person or that person then racism isn’t an issue or my personal favorite is about the time period someone grew up in. Guess what? It’s not an excuse. You can still have hate in your heart.

The first racial slur I heard was in middle school. I didn’t know what it meant until I asked my dad. It made me mad for several reasons most importantly because I am not Chinese, I am Korean. Initially, I did not know what the word meant, I just knew that I was mad. I believe that race is something that needs to be discussed, you can be “colorblind” while still being able to address race.

Recently while I was driving down the road a truck passed me and yelled another racial slur. No, I wasn’t being a stereotypical “Asian woman driver”, I was stopped in a turn lane waiting my turn during rush hour. It had been a long time since I had heard a racial slur with so much hate directed at me.  After that, I knew eventually I would have to have a discussion with my son. My son is half Korean and half Caucasian, his physical features are mostly mine, he looks more Asian than he does white. He will need to understand that there is hate in this world and there may be times that he may fall victim to it. There is a sense of duty to protect my child from the hate and even though I cannot shield him from everything I can teach him about it so he will understand.

Whether or not we have the ability to admit it or not, on some level whether it be conscious or not, we are aware of race, society is aware of race. There are still discrepancies in this world between the races and not addressing it is part of the problem. We cannot confront what is not known. The question comes down to, are you going to sit back and watch or muster your courage and do something about it?

Dear Adoptive Parents Everywhere,

What you have is a blessing and a curse. The mere foundation of your family is built on someone else’s trauma. This thought of happiness founded on trauma never really occurred to me. Honestly, I had always assumed my biological mother was “better off” and that her decision to place me for adoption was in my best interest and hers. After speaking with other KADs, some of whom have reunited with their biological family and others who have decided the unknown will never be known. There is a possibility that some of these birth mothers were coerced into giving their child up for adoption. The circumstances surrounding adoptions may never truly be known and the intentions unclear.

As an adoptive mom, I know some of the struggles that my daughter will have. There are times even now that I have to be very mindful of how I word things or how things are phrased. She remembers that she has another set of parents, but she doesn’t remember what they physically look like. One time she even asked me why they couldn’t keep her and when she came to live with us. After speaking with her therapist, our answers continue to be age appropriate. We have never spoken badly of her parents to her, we simply stated that they were unable to keep her safe. “Safe”, a word she knows very well and a word I still struggle to feel. My daughter likes being protected, she needs to know and feel that someone is with her, that someone won’t leave her and that either myself or her dad will return. For now, that is the best answer I can give her.

Adoptees struggle being stuck in two different worlds, at least those in transracial adoptions. We belong to a culture that we don’t identify with yet we identify one in which we were raised. There is a constant inner struggle that goes on within each of us between the two worlds. We are not white enough to be white, and yet we are not culturally Korean enough to be Korean. We may look the part of being Korean, but most adoptees still struggle with identifying with the Korean culture.

Whether you are transracially adopting or not, it is important to know that we as adoptees have a lot going on underneath the surface. We may have memories that may be triggered by smells, locations, seasons, food or even sound. Personally, I am not sure that I have any memories sounded by these but I know there are some that have them based on food and seasons. We don’t always remember events, but our bodies do, we don’t remember any possible neglect or abuse, but our bodies do, and we especially don’t always remember the trauma of being separated from our biological family but our bodies do. Please support our emotional health as well as our physical, we may not know the cause of our pain but help us get the support we need.

Remember to show us compassion and love, sometimes we need an extra hug or an extra reassurance that we are safe and secure. Remember to support us if we decide to search for our biological roots. We are only curious to see where we came from, you cannot blame us for being curious, but we would never replace you.

*This may not apply to all adoptees, but in my experience, this is what I have seen*

Always,

J

Wait…Are YOU her Mom?

While I was checking out in the grocery store with my two children the cashier asked, “Um…where does the blonde hair come from?” My daughter does not have the same physical features that I do, her hair is golden yellow, her eyes are one of the most beautiful blues I have ever seen, and her skin is milky white, she physically appears the polar opposite to my monolid eyes, dark hair and olive skin tone. During the four years, I’ve been this little girl’s mother, I always heard the same types of questions. People wanted to know how me, being of Korean ethnicity came to be the mother of a blue-eyed blonde hair little girl. As a foster parent and eventually an adoptive parent, I never want to explain my little girl’s past to complete strangers, I felt it was intrusive an inappropriate. She is still very little and she doesn’t even comprehend her history or life before she came to live with us. My response was very curt, I simply stated that she got the hair from her father, it was quite the clever answer if you ask me, both her biological and adoptive fathers have blonde hair. Technically I wasn’t deceitful, I was able to provide an appropriate answer while still protecting my daughter’s privacy. The cashier asked if those were strong genes given that my hair is so dark, I nodded and proceeded to finish checking out my groceries.

Since this little girl came into our home, she was one of the best things to come into my life. She has challenged me in ways that my son never did and gave me a lot of things to self-reflect over. Part of the topics I discuss in my book is because of her, and my desire to provide her with the best home and mental support available to her. My hope is that she would be able to process things that had happened in her past and would be able to heal from them. By this time I had also started to become part of the KAD community (Korean Adoptee), this too aided in the self-reflection and hearing stories from other people.

Adoption creates something within us, it leaves a scar that only other adoptees speak of and understand, some of us can instantly connect even without meeting in person. The experiences and stories that I have heard are a comfort to know that it wasn’t just my experience or something unique to me. There are not a lot of adoptees who speak about their feelings or about the feeling of being stuck in two different worlds. Being a transracial adoptee AND adoptive mom has its own struggles and stories. There are countless instances in which I can feel and see the glares, the questioning looks, and comments that have been made.

There was one evening while I was attending a friend’s church, a woman approached me from the congregation and asked me if I felt grateful that my parents adopted me. Most likely from the look on my face, this poor woman didn’t realize what she had said. Grateful? GRATEFUL? My mind could not process being grateful, I was a baby when I was adopted, I wasn’t given a choice or an option on where to go, I was just sent where I was placed. Even now decades later I can only speculate what my life would have been like if my parents would have not adopted me. The different scenarios that someone could dream up are endless.

Why don’t we, as adoptees speak out more? For me personally, I was always concerned about what people would think or how it would make my parents feel. My intentions were never to hurt them but my feelings and experiences are different than others. However, I believe that adoptees need to tell their stories, that even pain and trauma can emerge from growing up in loving two parent stable homes. That there is something significant that happens when you adopt a child or even a baby. Our experiences are unique and significant for others to hear. If we don’t speak up and use our voices to tell our stories we have failed future adoptees and adoptive parents. Without us taking the courage to use the voices we’ve been given leaves an opportunity for nothing to change. Be courageous and tell your story, experience, and feelings even just to your friends.

Always,

J