Category Archives: International Adoption

second grade adoptee

The smell of coffee drifts down the hallway to the back of the house, into my bedroom. It is a familiar smell and signals that morning is nigh. I burrow beneath the warmth of my covers, not wanting to get up. It is a cold, wet winter in Louisiana. Daddy’s alarm went off some minutes ago. What dreadful song woke me this morning? Sneaky Snake goes dancing wiggling and a-hissing…Ahh. That stupid Sneaky Snake song. Oh, how I hate that song and KRMD country radio. Daddy likes waking up to music rather than beeping. In the distance, the rev of B-52s pierces the air. Now that is a more tolerable sound. Barksdale Air Force base is just miles from our home, right down Barksdale Boulevard. Sometimes the engines sound like a loud crack, whipping across the sky, but mostly, it’s like a slow, steady growl. Daddy once flew B-52s. That was before the aneurysm. There are big pictures of them framed and hanging down our hallway. He was a pilot in the Air Force. I don’t know much about that, except I like looking at the giant missile that greets you as you enter the air base and shopping with Mom at the BX. Occasionally, the echoing horn of a train passes through the morning. These are the sounds I’ve grown accustomed to.

Mom peeks into my bedroom, dressed and ready for work. “Time to get up,” she chimes. This occurs a few more times until I begrudgingly slide out of bed. I dread school. At least this morning, a neighbor will drive me and her daughter to Sun City Elementary, and I won’t have to walk. I hate walking to school in the cold. Occasionally, my parents remind me how easy I have it because, apparently, they walked 20 miles to school everyday in the ice and snow. Humph.

I crunch on Frosty Flakes for breakfast. Sometimes when Daddy is getting me ready for school, he lets me eat ice cream. When it comes time to leave, Mom zips up my bulky, winter jacket. Her breath smells like cigarettes and coffee, but I hold perfectly still as she ties the strings of my winter beanie tightly beneath my chin. I feel like a rollie pollie. I’m sure I look like one, too. Finally, I put on my woolly mittens and trudge down the street to our neighbor’s. The cold air tears at my face, and I watch the misty vapor of my breath curl slowly upward.

The neighbor’s home is warm. I sit on the couch in the dimly lit living room as the family flurries about. I feel tired and eek out a yawn. The Frosty Flakes are starting to sour in my tummy. I wish I could just stay home. Finally, we pile into the neighbor’s car. Sun City Elementary is just a few blocks away. It is a small, pinkish-red brick building with a big playground right next to Parkway High School. An American flag is hoisted up a tall metal pole and waves in the wind. Upon entering the building, it is hard not to miss Mr. Varnell’s big, wooden paddle displayed on the wall for all to see, just beyond the glass panes of the front office window. Mr. Varnell is the school principal. He always wears a tie.

I walk to home room in Ms. Dent’s class. My stomach doesn’t feel good. I feel as though I might get sick. Fear presses down on me, and I ask Ms. Dent if she can have the office call my mom to come get me. She looks at me, brows furrowed. She is very pretty, but her eyes say “not again.” She wonders if I’m faking it. “Go back to your seat, and let’s see if you feel better in a little while.” She pushes me gently towards my desk. I comply, but feel my stomach turn flips, and my head is spinning. I sit at my desk, my eyes filling with tears. I do my best to hide them.

It’s time to change classes. I guess Mom will not be coming to get me today. I feel heavy and invisible at the same time. I walk to Mrs. Earp’s Math class. There is nothing more I hate about school than math class besides feeling like I’m different from everyone else. Learning five’s and ten’s using those stupid popsicle sticks never makes any sense, and equations are confusing, far beyond my understanding. Mrs. Earp’s marker squeaks across the screen of the overhead projector as she draws numbers and symbols. The sound always fills me with anxiety. I drift in and out, afraid to raise my hand to ask Mrs. Earp to explain the equations. I cannot wait for class to be over.

Down the hall to Language Arts. I like reading and writing and very quickly learn that I excel at similes and metaphors. After finishing my handwriting assignment, I ask my teacher to work on similes and metaphors for extra credit. There is a table set off in the front of the classroom. Atop it is a box filled with cardboard activity cards. I pull one out and start working. “My dog is as smelly as dirty socks.” Simile. Completing these activities is like a game, and I always score perfectly. I don’t see many other kids ask to work on similes and metaphors.

It is now time for Music class. I wish that Music class met everyday. Ms. McConnell, the music teacher, is nice to me, but she sure does get mad at students who misbehave. What a lovely singing voice she has. “Sing, sing a song. Sing out loud, sing out strong...” We all sing in unison with Ms. McConnell as she strums her guitar. Singing is the only time I raise my voice voluntarily in class. In Reading earlier in the day, I stumbled while reading out loud, “Run, Jane…r-r-r-u-n. S-e-e-e J-a-ne r-r-un.” I felt embarrassed. I know that I can read perfectly fine. My teacher did not utter a word when I was done. She called on Tony and praised him for reading with such inflection. Why can’t I get it right? I am different. I am not as smart. I am the quiet one who gets sick to her stomach everyday. I am a ghost existing in world when no one understands me.

At the end of the school day, I walk home, rather unhappily and numb. It is still cold, but slightly warmer than the chilly morning. The sky is a stormy gray, but the sidewalks are dry now. I walk straight home, anticipating a cozy fire to warm up to. Mom is home, still dressed in her white nursing uniform. I am home at last, unbothered by people, sights and sounds. Mom makes me a Natchitoches meat pie before I start in on homework. The smell of hot oil and fried things makes my tummy growl. I am happy to be home. I sit quietly at the table, relishing my savory meat pie. It is the best thing that has happened all day.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

privileging the voice of adoptees

Just over a week ago, the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs with the support of the U.S. Domestic Policy Council hosted a Symposium on Intercountry Adoption (ICA) in Washington DC. The purpose of the Symposium was to bring together a diverse group of ICA stakeholders in order to strengthen the future practice of intercountry adoption. Such stakeholders included professional adoption practitioners; attorneys; government officials from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State; and Legislators as well as a number of others. Interested adoptive parents also attended, and historically, the Department invited adult adoptees as well as birth parents for the first time, as the Department’s aim was to “create a deeper understanding of the respective views and interests of each stakeholder group.” The Symposium gave a clearer comprehension of the roles of the many different governmental offices in intercountry adoption, and yet there is still much to learn about each entity and their direct roles. It became clear to me that our present system of intercountry adoption and the policies and regulations governing it are far more intricate than I imagined.

All of us care for the safety of children. All of us recognize their vulnerability. All of us want to protect them from those who would do them harm. Bringing all of us together, as this Symposium does, provides us with an opportunity to meet those goals in cooperation rather than in competition.

Carl Rische, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs

Despite moments of challenge, in the end, all agreed that safety of the children is utmost. For long now, fear, trauma, anger, and disconnect have made it extremely difficult for everyone involved to come together. I believe all members within the adoption constellation, that is birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents, have suffered tremendous loss, but those losses and how they are experienced and processed are uniquely individual. However, I’m not the first to say, adoptees have had the least voice and suffered the greatest losses, yet have the most to be learned from because of our lived experience. We all need far greater awareness and acknowledgment of the losses, fears of rejection, feelings of shame and guilt and our own processes of grief for true healing to occur. We have to hear each others’ voices and not be put off by them. I experienced the Symposium as a step towards changing the current environment, an opportunity for all voices to be listened to, despite great disparity at times among different groups. All in all, if intercountry adoption is to exist and we agree that those who should “benefit” the most – the adopted child, youth, adult adoptee – then we must guarantee long-term healing, safety and permanence for the adoptee through adoption practice and policy that provides greater protections.

What Protections?

Citizenship For ALL Adoptees. Today, an estimated thousands of intercountry adoptees who were adopted by U.S. parents are without U.S. citizenship due to a loophole that exists in current legislation. They remain at risk, unable to access critical services and rights. According to 18 Million Rising, 35 intercountry adoptees have been deported with more being targeted. Current legislation (Child Citizenship Act of 2000) granted citizenship to foreign-born adoptees adopted by U.S. citizens; however, the bill did not take effect until February 27, 2001, and as a result, adoptees who were 18-years old or older at the time were not covered unbeknownst to adoptive parents and adoptees. Deportation causes another significant trauma to those adoptees. They are torn away from family and forced to live in a country where they were relinquished, where they do not speak the language, understand the culture, nor have known family. They were guaranteed a “better life,” one of permanence, and yet have been failed. The Citizenship Act of 2019 would fix the loophole in current legislation and grant automatic citizenship to all adoptees; however, the bill remains tied up in Congress. Adoptee activists continue to engage with Congressmen/women and Senators to advance this bill, yet increased and ongoing Adoptee and Ally support is needed. I urge you to support this bill, get involved by donating, volunteering and/or contacting your legislators. Learn more at Adoptees for Justice, Adoptee Rights Campaign, Adoptee Rights Law.

Ethical Adoption Practices. Regulatory oversight is critical to ensuring the safety and protection of children, as we know that those who would cause harm for profit have existed under unethical adoption practices across the history of intercountry adoption. At the Symposium, adoptive parents, Adam and Jessica Davis, shared their story of adopting a five-year old girl, Namata, from Uganda only to learn a year and a half later, as Namata’s English improved, that she had a loving mommy who cared for her back home. Upon further investigation, the family learned that, indeed Namata was not an orphan. Her mother had been tricked into sending her daughter to a family in the U.S. whom she believed would provide for her education and then be later returned home. The Davis’ did a remarkable thing, eventually vacating the adoption and reuniting Namata with her mother in Uganda. This is one family who stood against those who urged them to keep Namata, despite the injustices again her mother and the abhorrent trafficking that occurred. Jessica stated in an interview with CNN,

After unveiling Namata’s true story and doing extensive research, I feel I have gained an awareness of the realities of corruption occurring across the board within international adoption. This complicated yet beautiful act of opening up a home and a heart to a child in need has become heavily corrupted by greed and saviorism.

Jessica Davis, adoptive parent and activist – quote used with permission.

The U.S. adoption agency the Davis family worked with was later debarred. This is only one story, one family, one example of unethical adoption practice, though others exist. And yet, “Harm to even one adopted child is unacceptable.” (Carl Rische, opening statement). Unregulating standards is not the answer, as some alluded to, but efforts to thoroughly investigate a child’s “orphan” status among other things must continue.

Additionally, unregulated custody transfers (UCTs), also known as rehoming, endanger the lives of adopted children. UCT’s occur when parents transfer the physical custody of their child to a person who is not the child’s parent or other adult relative, or adult friend of the family with whom the child is familiar, with the intent of permanently avoiding responsibility for the child’s care and without taking reasonable steps to ensure the child’s safety or permanency of the placement (Child Welfare Information Gateway). Children adopted through foster care and intercountry adoption are at greater risk for UCT. A recent study found challenges associated with these adoptions – the child’s complex physical and behavioral health needs and difficulties finding and, furthermore, paying for needed health services, may lead families to seek out unregulated transfers (Brown, K., Morrison, E., Hartjes, E., Nguyen, N., Sweet, A. 2015. Steps have been taken to address unregulated custody transfers of adopted children. Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office. Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-733). There is legislation currently pending on unregulated custody transfers.

Post-Adoption Services. At this time, there is no federal or state regulation or oversight guiding implementation of post-adoption services. Adoption service providers across the country are at their own discretion to offer such services. We heard from a number of adoptive parents who expressed great difficulty accessing needed resources and support after the finalization of adoption. Adoption service providers themselves agreed that this is the case. We know that children who are adopted are at higher risk for developing emotional, psychological, and behavioral problems as a result of disrupted attachments, trauma and identity issues, even though physically they may thrive in a safe and loving home. The emotional, psychological, and physical state of the birth mother during pregnancy also has tremendous impact on the child. The child brings all of this trauma into the adoptive family, which impacts every member of the family system, including siblings. With this knowledge comes great responsibility to help that child heal. The adoption journey really begins post-adoption. Most services are terminated at that time, yet ongoing support during the first few months and years following are critical to the healthy development and healing of the child.

Lastly, there is legislation pending related to intercountry adoption, but outcomes remain to be seen. And finally, I want to thank the Department of State for welcoming adoptees and birth parents to the Symposium and for showing support to those of us who attended. Thank you to my fellow adoptees for your passion, determination, and tireless efforts to make our voices heard. Huge thanks to Lynelle Long, who blazed the way for us to attend this event. We’ve reached a pivotal point. It is my hope that Adoptees can work alongside other stakeholders to achieve change that brings increased safety, protection and healing to adoptees. We do need to get it right because so much is at stake, now more than ever, and the way forward is to include adoptees as part of the process.

To read Carl Rische’s introductory remarks at the Symposium in full, click here.

Pictured in photograph, L to R: Diego Vitelli, adopted from Columbia, founder, Adopted from Columbia!; Monica Lindgren, adopted from Columbia, attorney; Reshma McClintock, adopted from India, founder, Dear Adoption, co-founder, fp365; JaeRan Kim, PhD, LISW, adopted from S. Korea, Assistant Professor, University of Washington, Tacoma; Cherish Bolton, adopted from India, co-director, People for Ethical Adoption Reform (PEAR), doctorate student; Lynelle Long, adopted from Vietnam, founder, InterCountry Adoptee Voices; Marijane Huang, adopted from Taiwan, social worker, educator, author; Kristopher Larson, adopted from Vietnam, co-director, Adoptees for Justice; Joy Alessi, adopted from S. Korea, co-director, Adoptee Rights Campaign; Trista Goldberg, adopted from Vietnam, founder of Operation Reunite.

hurts and healing

The room is set up when I arrive. I feel scattered and fatigued, yet eager to learn. It is the second day of the Digital Storytelling (DST) workshop, a week-long program developed for teens in foster care and offered every summer by the agency I work for. The purpose of the program is to empower teens in foster care or adopted, to give them voice and a platform to tell their stories via digital storytelling. There are two female teens, one of whom I already know from the adopted children’s group, participating in the program this year. Typically, there are more teens. A handful of adults are also present who will be the guides, the program supervisor, who is also my supervisor, the program director and another staff person whom I have not yet met. She has a blonde bob with a bright red streak on one side. I learn that she has helped with the DST program since its inception nine years ago and was the previous adopted children’s and teen group facilitator before I came on board. We are all social workers. There is one other staff person from Admin. She presented her story at our last All Staff meeting, including a short film about her experiences. She has a history like many of the kids we serve in foster care, abuse, neglect, loss, but never went into the system. I give the teen from children’s group a hug as I enter the room, surprised to see her. I make the mistake of calling her by the wrong name. Darn it! I am convicted immediately as she looks at me as though I have three heads. I am full of apologies, annoyed by my own poor memory. She had recently been placed into a new foster family at the start of our children’s group. The family wants to adopt her.

I missed the first day of training and am a little behind. I am surprised when my supervisor asks if I would like to create my own digital story, as I came fully prepared to assist with the teens. The thought is, If I am to help facilitate the program one day, I will need to participate and experience it personally. My other co-worker from Admin is also creating her own digital story, as she hopes to use her story to convince our CEO to roll DST out to all of our regions. I am happy to participate, yet feel pulled towards helping the teens with their stories. We are each assigned our own Mac laptop to work on during the week and are using a program called Final Cut Pro to create our digital stories. The program combines video footage, voiceover, text and music to create the final product.

The first step is to write down what the words “family” and “adoption” mean to me, like in word cloud fashion. Everyone has already completed their word cloud and is now working on their narrative, or voiceover, which is limited to 800 words. This is the story our audience will hear. I write down “Family” in the center of a blank white piece of paper. I have mixed feelings and thoughts about family and find it difficult to bring words to the front of my mind. I have three families, my adoptive family, my birth family, and my own family. Slowly, I begin jotting down words: “Love, fun, togetherness, history, memories, vacations,” the positive stuff. But, I also associate family with hurts. I add, “unknowns, adoption, doors, unsafe, character, forgiveness.” I take out another blank piece of paper and write “Adoption” in the center. Words immediately flood my mind, enough to fill a book!” I write quickly, “ignorance, distance, secrets, othered, voiceless, fog, woundedness, shallow, loss, anxiety, separation, identity, blanks.” I add, “healing, strength, power, groundedness, journey, culture, reunion and distance.”

Since I missed “Story Circle” yesterday, my supervisor invites everyone to come together so that I have the opportunity to share my words and decide what part of my story to tell in the digital storytelling. We go to a corner of the room situated with a few armchairs, which provides a more intimate setting. I wish that I had heard everyone else’s sharing, as I’m not sure where to begin, exactly how much to share about my story. So I start by reciting a few of the words I’ve written down. I am asked questions by my co-workers/guides that encourage me to tell more, and I fill in the blanks. My supervisor is curious why I chose the word,”unsafe,” related to family. I share that I did not always feel safe in my adoptive home. My mom went into rages, often yelling, sometimes throwing things, especially during my teen years when I was struggling with fitting in, acceptance and identity. The more controlling she became, the more rebellious I became. I was cautious about the words I chose when sharing, as I wasn’t sure how the teens might take in what I said. I didn’t share that I hated my mom during that period of my life. I didn’t share that she pushed me backwards so hard once that I fell onto my bed (better that than the floor), and she shook me so hard that my shirt ripped. I didn’t share that she yanked my telephone out of the wall once and threw it across my bedroom while I was talking to a friend. I didn’t share that my mom and dad abused alcohol and smoked incessantly, which really bothered me. I didn’t share that I was terrified of my mom. I continue and talk about “secrets,” how my adoptive parents hid my adoption contract and true identity from me. I learned on the day of my mother’s funeral that I was not Japanese and Vietnamese as I grew up believing, but Chinese. This I learned from my adoption contract, one of the many secrets dispelled that day.

What happens next comes as a huge surprise. I talk about coming to a place of understanding after giving birth to my daughter. I understood how much a mom loves her child, the lengths she would go to protect that child. I share regrets, that I never had the chance to make things right with my mom before she developed Alzheimer’s disease and was unable to recognize me. I can say now that I believe my mom did the best she could raising me considering her generation and lack of education related to raising a child of another race. I was not an easy teen to parent. Suddenly, I am crying. I have carried regret and sorrow for so many years because I never told my mom that I forgive her, and I never asked for her forgiveness. “I think that’s your story,” my supervisor says gently. I’m astounded. I never connected forgiveness to my story. I was unaware. Many people ask if I feel angry towards my parents because they hid and possibly lied about so much of my history. I am not. If anything, I feel sad. Sad that my parents did not feel they could share these things with me. But given all the conflict and hurts in our family, it’s no wonder. Things had a way of being swept under the carpet. One of my co-workers, the one with the red streak in her hair, adds, “You said that your mom did the best she could with so few supports. But, you also did the best you could during those teen years. You managed in the best way you knew how.” This is the first time anyone has ever pointed that out to me, and I am greatly comforted. I didn’t expect to share so much of me during this workshop. I’m wondering what the teens are thinking as I’m crying and processing my own past hurts.

Over the next few days, we are busy shooting footage and compiling photographs to incorporate into our digital stories. We’re encouraged to use the footage and photos metaphorically to illustrate parts of our story and to avoid simply stringing personal/family photographs together to make a slideshow. This is the story our audience will see. Once our narratives or voiceover tracks are laid down, photos and footage are dropped. Finally, we add music and text. I am frustrated by slow Internet connection and buffering, which makes it more difficult to complete my project. It’s a bit like editing a podcast. In the end I have created more of a slideshow than a digital story. But, what I have gained overall is much more valuable to me than the actual digital media. Forgiveness. Forgiveness is such an integral part of my adoption story. I am struck by the fact that healing from adoption continues. There are parts that will always be tender. As my wise and compassionate co-workers remarked, adoption has many, many layers of complexity. And, I am grateful to work for an agency and with staff who truly understand that.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

piano

Although I don’t know much about my early beginnings, I do know that music has shaped my life in profound ways from as far back as I can remember. My biological sisters told me when I met them in Taiwan that our mother loved classical music. My sisters, too, share a love of music, so it’s not surprising that it would get passed down to me.

piano 1

May 1977

My adoptive parents rented a small upright piano after I came home one day from a friend’s house saying that I wanted to take piano lessons.  I was just fascinated by how she could play the piano. I picked up melodies easily by ear, and once my parents saw how much I loved playing, they bought a baby grand of which I still have in my possession. I’m sure that my parents spent what was considered a lot of money in those days on the purchase of that piano. I remember first sitting down and marveling at the feel of the ivory keys beneath my fingers. The keys were much heavier, and I loved how much richer the bass sound was. I studied classical piano through college, although around my sophomore year, I became interested in acting and dancing as well, which competed with my practice time at the piano. I spent three-four hours practicing piano daily in college, as I was a performance major (I chose a performance degree so that I didn’t have to take any math classes). I loved being a music major. Listening to music, playing music, studying music. To be surrounded by music was just about the best thing ever. I was a decent pianist, not super talented, but played well enough to get through a college degree in piano performance.

piano 2

June 1976

I have often asked myself why I quit playing after graduating. I think part of it was that my mom “made” me keep taking lessons when I wanted to quit, as many students eventually do. But it wasn’t just piano. There were so many other things that my mom insisted upon that, had I been less compliant, would have strained our relationship even further. She wanted me to eventually teach piano privately and stay in Louisiana. Both ideas were about the worst thing I could have imagined. I actually did teach briefly after graduation, but didn’t like it. After our daughter was born in California, I went back to teaching on and off for about ten years so that I could be at home with her. I understand my mom and why she did the things she did much better as an adult who has lived life a little. Although I don’t agree with the way she parented, she was doing the best she could. There are times when I wish that I could tell her that because I know that she loved me, and it was a tough job raising an internationally adopted kid without any kind of support or training. She also loved music and played the organ.

I cannot imagine a world without music. Playing the piano was a way to express myself, although I really had no idea that that was what I was doing back then. I thank both my moms for giving me a love of music. I don’t play as often as I’d like, but I do have some ideas for a new creative project at the piano that I hope to start soon. We’ll see what comes of it in the days and months ahead. Hoping that you, too, make space for  creativity in whatever shape suits you.

fame

MjWhen I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a famous actress. I had this little silver crown that my mom brought home from a New Year’s Eve party, and I’d set that atop my head, put on my little white crocheted poncho and pretend that I was being interviewed. My mom would peer into my bedroom and ask who I was talking to. I was inspired by old musicals. My favorites were The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and An American in Paris. There was also a young girl whom I idolized, the daughter of my second piano teacher. The girl was very pretty and participated in lots of beauty pageants. I mean, this kid had a display of trophies that filled half her bedroom. I remember seeing her perform in a play with my Brownie troop and thinking, “I could do that.” I was far too shy though to really pursue acting. In college, however, I auditioned for a small part in a play called Open Admissions by Shirley Lauro. It was during my sophomore year. The role was for a a character named Kitty Shim, an 18-year old Korean college student. I was a shoe in, as I was the only Asian, female or male, in my entire college. I learned an accent by going to a local Chinese restaurant and talking to a waitress. I even recorded our conversation on cassette tape. Isn’t that funny. The student who played Ginny, one of the leads in the play, was very kind and later told me  that she thought I  had talent. She was in a number of plays performed at Centenary College’s Marjorie Lyons Playhouse. I held onto that compliment, and it opened up a whole new fascination that I wanted to explore.

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” – Jim Carrey

Oaplaybillcover-originalWe took Open Admissions to Regionals that year, and I received a small, but positive review for my role. Later, I participated in a theater student’s class assignment, playing the role of Lady Roxane in a scene from Cyrano de Bergerac. It was just me and a guy in the scene. I was told that the theater department director gave me positive remarks. I remember feeling so nervous about that and relieved by the words of encouragement. I was bitten by the acting bug and eventually auditioned for other plays. Performing on stage was euphoric. Unlike a piano performance, I didn’t feel pressure to perform perfectly. Any mistakes or memory lapses at the keyboard meant failure. Perhaps that’s why to this day, I struggle with performance anxiety. I never landed any leading roles, just minor parts, I think primarily because I didn’t know anything about acting and probably wasn’t that skilled. Furthermore, I was terribly insecure, and did I mention shy? I wasn’t capable of showing very much emotion. Most of that came from deep-rooted identity issues that I was not even conscious of at the time. I hardly felt comfortable in my own skin.

After college, I taught piano for awhile in a couple of after-school programs at St. Mark’s Episcopal and a Baptist church in Shreveport. A year later, I moved to Florida where I began taking acting classes. It was such a fun, reckless period in my life. I had a college degree in music, yet was waiting tables at Friday’s. And, I was really the worst waitress ever. It’s almost embarrassing how bad I was. I auditioned for commercials, community theater and dancing roles at Disneyland. Eventually, I auditioned for a Studio Tour Guide position at Universal Studios Orlando, which was just being built at the time. There was a grand opening with lots of celebrities weeks later. I was so excited when I got the position. Then came memorizing a very large script. My peers and I spent hours performing, improvising and critiquing each other in preparation for giving studio tram tours. I was in a group of other “want-to-be” actors and became friends with many of them. We had such a blast working together. I was an idealistic, naive young woman with a lot of ambition, but not a lot of smarts. And it was a time of great freedom. I was landing roles in commercials and community theater, waiting for my “big break.” That arrived when I got a bit part in a made-for-television movie, which earned me my SAG card. No, I never saw the movie and am not sure that it ever aired. Shortly thereafter, I moved to Los Angeles to further pursue acting. I did not get very far. My priorities changed after getting involved in a church and meeting my husband. For someone Asian with little experience and few substantial acting credits, it was difficult to get a callback amidst all the competition.

Sometimes I regret spending so much time chasing a dream that was way beyond my reach. “I should have just continued to teach piano. I should have continued my music studies,” I tell myself. I’ve come to realize that the desire to act stemmed from a need to be seen and heard. On stage, people see and listen to you. You’re literally center stage. And, you get immediate feedback from the audience – that connection was like a high. To cause someone to laugh or to feel something was extremely gratifying. I also loved the camaraderie that came from being part of a cast, a not so dysfunctional family. Growing up adopted, I did not have a voice. I didn’t know how to find my voice nor did I have the ability to identify my feelings or the trauma that caused some of my insecurities. I did not know how to connect with others in a meaningful way. I believed that acting would somehow give me the voice I lacked. I craved adulation, but what I really needed was self-acceptance. It would take years to grow that and a voice.

Although I’m much more comfortable with who I am and what I’m about, I’m still haunted by my own insecurities. To this day, I struggle with anxiety, disordered thinking around food and body image and self doubt. I’m a perfectionist and an overachiever. What I’ve learned is that the very things I sought in the past – status, achievement, beauty, a bigger paycheck, are the things that bring me the least amount of joy. It’s just taken me a Very long time to figure that out, and sometimes, it’s difficult to strike a healthy balance. Like you, I’m a work in progress. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll go back and audition for some community theater 🙂

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

 

 

extraordinarily ordinary life

I’ve been a little under the weather this week and out of the office. It’s nice to just laze around watching Netflix, drinking lots of hot tea. There is much value in slowing down, although I don’t recommend getting sick in order to do so. When I do get some down time, I often realize how fast life is going and that I’m spinning out of control. Do you ever have those moments? It’s at that time when I try to slow down and bring in things that are comforting. This morning, I tuned into the NPR All Songs Considered Podcast. Wow, so soul-inspiring and just what I needed. The song list included: 1) John Denver: “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” 2) Tom Adams: “In Darkness,” 3) Sharon Van Etten: “Come Back Kid,” 4: SOAK: “Everybody Loves You,” 5: Miya Folick: “THingaming,” 6) Jason Lytle: “Color of Dirt,” 7) J.S. Ondara: “American Dream.” I loved all of the songs, but the song that struck me most was John Denver’s.

Poems, Prayers and Promises” resonated with me deeply. Perhaps it has to do with getting older, but lately I’ve been giving much thought to the days of old, reflecting on motherhood, going to graduate school and even further back to high school and college. Reminiscing about what felt like easier times. When my daughter was growing up, I taught piano, primarily to young kids and a few adults, so I could be home with her. I often felt pressure to get a full-time job to supplement our household income, but I’m glad I didn’t. Life seemed slower, as being a mom was my primary role. My most favorite role ever. My daughter is now in college; I’m working full-time, working towards obtaining clinical licensure. The chapters related to raising a family have closed. New ones have opened, and honestly, I’m not particularly enjoying the new ones. On most days, it feels like a grind.

I guess it’s taken me this long to realize that graduate school was very idealistic, and I’m not sure it was worth all of the student loans. At times, actually often, I feel pretty disillusioned and tired. More importantly, I realize that all of the misplaced ambitions were to gain a sense of self worth, a sense of significance. After a lifetime of feeling invisible, one desires nothing more than to be seen and heard. To make a statement. To lead in some way. Adoptee stuff.

What I’m learning is that life is so much more valuable than achieving. It’s about enjoying and letting go of the stuff that brings you down. I’m still very much working on that. It doesn’t come easy. I wish that I could impress this upon my daughter, who is starting her life as a grown up. Our children learn the good and the bad from us, and I have certainly not always modeled how to manage stress and anxiety in healthy ways. She is doing so well, however, despite many challenges in her beautiful young life. I love her so. She has made all the difference.

Mothering has taught me a lot about life and love and ease. I guess that’s why I miss it so much, not that I don’t continue to mother, it’s just different now. It’s more about letting her take the wheel, trusting that even should she veer into the wrong lane, she will get back into the right lane, wiser. This is what I know: Hold the people and things you love the most close to your heart everyday. I would love to go back to Taiwan to see my birth family again. Alas, there are always obstacles. I hold them close to my heart, despite the distance.

There is something to be said and learned from achieving and making a difference. But life is short, and you cannot go back. Do what makes you happy, and don’t let naysayers dissuade you. Surround yourself with others who support you and your dreams because God knows, life is not easy. I wish that someone had told me these things when I was an impressionable young woman. I’ve worked hard since grad school. I truly hope that it has not all been in vain, as things that are most valuable do not come by way of a diploma or a degree or clinical hours. Life is precious. Your life is precious. Every single minute of it.

Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash

world mental health day

Today is World Mental Health Day. Let’s talk about it.

It’s estimated that one in five people experience a mental illness in a given year in the U.S. That’s 43.8 million people, or 18.5% of the population. I found a catalogue of great stories, commentaries, interviews and videos that explore mental health issues across a breadth of fields globally on Culture Trip. Check out all of the stories here.

Culture Trip is a global tech startup that inspires people to explore the world’s culture and creativity through innovative technology and a global network of local content creators. It was founded in London in 2011 by former academic psychiatrist Dr Kris Naudts and was named by Forbes as one of five fast-growing UK companies to watch. Naudts says, “In my experience, mental health challenges make you more empathetic and creative, more resourceful. Mental health challenges are a strength. Talk about it.”

Among the stories, Culture Trip speaks to award-winning author Matt Haig about his experience with depression and how sharing his story helped him on the road to recovery. We investigate how hysteria still influences women’s medical treatment today and we look into the scarcity of support in the testosterone-charged world of professional football. We meet elderly birdkeepers tackling loneliness in Singapore, attend a London supper club for people experiencing disordered eating, and learn how virtual reality is revolutionising mental health treatments. I especially love the article on the best free mental health apps for anxiety, stress and depression. Check them out!

Wishing everyone good mental health today and everyday.

Free Help:

Crisis Text Line: Text Home to 741741

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255

songs that saved my life

We all have that one song or songs that have helped us through tough times. This afternoon, KROQ 106.7 in Los Angeles featured songs from a special playlist called, Songs That Saved My Life. The playlist features artists performing covers of songs that helped them through a personally challenging time. This compilation benefits mental health and suicide prevention charities. Songs That Saved My Life looks to engage current artists with cover versions of those songs and share those stories with the world. Currently, this project benefits Crisis Text Line, Hope For The Day, The Trevor Project, and To Write Love On Her Arms.

This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. In my last post, I shared research that shows adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adoptees. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. alone and the 3rd leading cause of death for 15-24-year olds, after accidents and homicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, there is a crisis text line that offers free, 24/7 crisis support in the U.S. Text HOME to 741741, or just follow this link. You can also go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline here, or call at 1-800-273-8255.

Visit the Songs That Saved My Life website where you can see all of the artists who contributed to this compilation. The playlist will be available for purchase on November 9th, but you preview some of the songs on iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon.