Tag Archives: International Adoption

extraordinarily ordinary life

I’ve been a little under the weather this week and have been out of the office, lazing around watching Netflix and drinking lots 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 too seldom realize how fast life is going and that I’m spinning out of control. In those moments, I try to slow down and look for things that bring comfort. So this morning, I tuned into the NPR All Songs Considered Podcast. Wow, so soul-inspiring. 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 stood out to me this morning was John Denver’s, “Poems, Prayers and Promises.” Talk about a song that just sucker punches you right in the gut.

Poems, Prayers and Promises” resonated with me deeply. Perhaps it has to do with getting older, but lately, I’ve given much thought to the days of old, reflecting on raising my daughter, going to graduate school and even further back to high school and college. Reminiscing about 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 give in to it. Life was much slower back then, as being a mom was my biggest role and my most favorite role ever. My daughter is now in college, and I’m working full-time, trying to obtain clinical licensure. Ugh. The chapters related to raising a family have closed. New ones have followed. I’m not particularly enjoying the new chapters. On most days, it feels like a grind. At my age, grinding is not particularly fun.

I guess it’s taken me this long to realize that after all of the graduate school, student loans, goals and achievements, I’m pretty disillusioned and tired. And more importantly, I realize that all of the misplaced ambitions were primarily to gain a sense of self worth and significance. After a lifetime of feeling invisible, one desires nothing more than to be seen and heard. Adoptee stuff.

What I’m learning is that life is so much more valuable than achieving. It’s about enjoying every minute of it and letting go of *!@# that brings you down. I’m still working on working on that , and I wish that I could impress it upon my daughter, who is starting her life as a grown up. She is doing so well, despite many challenges in her beautiful, young life.

Motherhood 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. This is what I know: Hold the people and things you love the most close to your heart everyday. That is why I so desperately want to go back to Taiwan. To see my birth family. Alas, there are always obstacles. Yes, 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 a young.

One day I hope to have clinical Iicensure. I’ve worked so hard for it, yet it feels as though it’s beyond my reach. 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. There are moments in time I wish I could redo; nevertheless, life is precious. Your life is precious. Every single minute of it.

Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash

healing childhood trauma

Hello everyone. In this post, I wanted to talk about childhood trauma. To heal childhood trauma, it’s important to understand how trauma affects a child’s development. So, that’s where we’ll begin. If you have not yet read my last post on adoption and preverbal trauma, you can check it out here. Today, I’ll present a very brief overview of brain neurosequential development and how trauma affects this process. I am a trainer and educator to fost/adoptive parents on complex developmental trauma, attachment, and TBRI®.

First, let’s talk about childhood trauma. You can go to this link to learn more about adverse childhood experiences, or ACES, and the impact of negative experiences on an individual’s lifelong health and wellness. We know that children in foster care and children in orphanages have suffered trauma, and their ACE scores are high. The very fact that they are in such institutions is a trauma. Children in foster care typically come into care due to neglect, physical/sexual/emotional abuse, domestic violence between parents. Kids in foster care and kids who have been adopted experience separation, loss, and grief, feelings of abandonment, instability, and have often not been provided with the kind of sensory diet that promotes healthy development. Additionally, many kids in foster care have experienced multiple placements. Prolonged exposure to one or more of these factors can lead to complex developmental trauma, which psychologist Bessel van der Kolk describes as “the experience of multiple, chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, most often of an interpersonal nature (italics and bold added).” Complex trauma impairs social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Dr. Karyn Purvis, Developmental Psychologist and Co-founder of Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI®), described six early risk factors that influence the way children from difficult backgrounds think, trust, and connect with others: 1) Difficult pregnancy – the birth mother has experienced medical problems, drugs/alcohol, crisis, or other trauma. Persistent and high levels of stress throughout pregnancy affect the infant in-utero. Stress response chemicals in an infant’s brain can remain for up to a month after the mother gives birth.  2) Difficult birth – a difficult and traumatic birth is risky for lots of reasons, including perinatal hypoxia, which can lead to mild neurological insult. 3) Early hospitalization – children who experience early hospitalizations often experience painful touch rather than nurturing, comforting touch in the first days of life. 4) Abuse – the brains of children from abusive backgrounds have been trained to be hypervigilant, or always on guard, to the environment around them. 5) Neglect – children from neglectful backgrounds, e.g., orphanages, often suffer from the most severe behavioral problems and brain deficits. The message they have learned is you don’t exist. 6) Trauma – this may include witnessing an extreme event, like a natural disaster or 9/11, or any number of traumas in the child’s life. A child’s developmental trajectory will change as a result of trauma.

brain 2

As you probably already know, different parts of the brain have different functions. Author and psychiatrist, Dr. Dan Siegel, says the brain is like a two-story house. Emotional reactivity, motivation, attachment, and the “fight, flight, or freeze” response are regulated in the downstairs brain. This is where the brain stem and limbic system are located. I’m not going to discuss all of the structures in the brain, but will highlight the areas that pertain to this discussion. The limbic system is involved in emotions and motivations related to survival, including emotions that are pleasurable, e.g., eating and sex. The upstairs brain regulates executive functioning, thinking, planning, control over emotion and body. It’s where the cerebral cortex or “grey matter” is located.

When you experience a strong emotion such as fear or stress, your downstairs brain sounds an alarm, and a stress response is activated. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight or flight response. This causes certain physiological responses to occur in your body. Think back on a time when you felt frightened or stressed. Your heart and respiration rates increased, your pupils likely dilated, and the blood flow to your muscles increased in preparation to fight or flee. This is a survival response. Other parts of your brain are off-line when your stress response is activated. In other words, thinking clearly or executing a well-defined plan become much more difficult when your stress response system is activated.

Now let’s talk about brain neurosequential development. The brain develops sequentially from the bottom to the top and inside-out from the brain stem to the cortex. Our downstairs brain comes much more developed at birth than our upstairs brain. Each part of our brain develops at different times beginning in-utero and continuing to adulthood (the brain is fully developed around 25-years of age). An infant’s brain stem is the most developed region of her brain. When distressed, she needs a responsive caregiver to help her regulate. She has a need and expresses it through crying, fussing, or raging. The need is gratified when a caregiver changes her soiled diaper, feeds her, provides movement, skin-to-skin contact, speech, and warmth. The parasympathetic nervous system helps to put on the brakes and calm the body once the distress has passed. All of these actions serve a very important purpose – to teach the infant how to self-regulate. We refer to this dance as the arousal-relaxation cycle.

Arousal-Relaxation+Cycle.jpgWhen abuse and neglect occur, it interrupts the arousal-relaxation cycle, and consequently, affects the attachment cycle. This leads to serious problems in the development of personality, which has long-lasting effects into adulthood. When the cycle is not completed and repeated, difficulties may occur in very critical areas, including social/behavioral development, cognitive development, emotional development, cause and effect thinking, conscience development, reciprocal relationships, parenting, and accepting responsibility. Furthermore, positive or negative experiences that occur during critical or sensitive periods of brain development alter the development in that particular area, which cascades and alters other areas of the brain. When children experience repetitive activation of the stress response system, their baseline of state of arousal is altered. The child lives in an aroused, hypervigilant state, ill-prepared to learn from social, emotional and other life experiences. She is living in the minute and may not fully appreciate the consequences of her actions. Her brain stem has “muscled up” in fight, fright or freeze mode, as any part of the brain that we use most often is the part most developed. Her ability to control her emotions and body and behave in ways we consider age appropriate may be severely compromised.

As a side note, two Yale pediatricians, Provence and Lipton, found that if caregivers did not meet the needs of infants quickly, they stopped crying within a period of 30-60 days. The infant learns that no one comes. She has lost her voice. Despite the absence of crying, the baby may still be hungry, scared, soiled, or in pain. Additionally, she is likely to have high levels of cortisol, or stress hormones, released in her brain, though outwardly she may appear to be calm and not at all distressed.

Infants and young children need to feel safe. They use attachments with their caregivers as models for future relationships. Caregivers are a secure base from which infants can explore their physical and social worlds. As you can well imagine, children who have histories of abuse or neglect very often have not experienced felt safety or secure attachment. This sets them up for attachment difficulties with foster and adoptive parents and difficulties in relationships with others.

There are numerous theories and therapy approaches directed at parenting and healing children who have experienced trauma, including abuse, neglect, grief and loss. I will delve into this in later posts, but a good resource is Attachment Theory in Practice: Building Connections Between Children and Parents edited by Karen Doyle Buckwalter and Debbie Reed. There is a chapter at the end of the book called The Voice of the Adoptee written by adoptees Faith Friedlander, Clinical VP and co-founder of Kids and Families Together, and Melanie Chung-Sherman, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and psychotherapist. Finally, an attachment-based professional/parenting resource that includes adoptee voices!

We know that traditional parenting does not work with kids who have experienced trauma. With deep fear comes a desperate need for deep control. It’s a survival strategy, as these kids do not know to do anything better. The way they think, feel, learn, process the senses, and interact with peers has been profoundly altered due to trauma. Their stress systems stay on, and the smallest thing or a transition can cause a meltdown. They fight or flee. They have lost their voice. Timeouts, spankings, and lectures are not effective and may further traumatize the child. There is hope. Parents must become healers and help repair their child’s brain by creating the proper environment for change. The brain can adapt and new behaviors can be taught and learned. In the next few posts, I’ll offer more resources. Stay tuned for an overview on attachment and attachment styles in my next post.


Featured Photo by Carlo Navarro on Unsplash

Keck, G.C., & Kupeckty, R.M. (2009). Parenting the hurt child. Colorado: Navpress.

Perry, B. (2005). Maltreatment and the developing child: How early childhood experiences shapes child and culture. Retreived from http://www.lfcc.on.ca/mccain/perry.pdf.

Provence, S., & Lupton, R. C. (1962). Infants in institutions. New York: International Universities Press.

Purvis, K. and Cross, D. (July 2013). The healing power of “giving voice.” Retrieved from http://www.adoptioncouncil.org/files/large/f7bb17e8fba418b

 

elevate adoptee voices

photos-by-lanty-597554-unsplashSince last November, I’ve had the privilege of connecting to many other adult international adoptees around the U.S. via a podcast I hosted called Global Adoptee Talk. Some participated in my podcast and others did not. Nevertheless, just to hear and share stories was incredibly validating, and I appreciate the supportive community that we’re a part of. Unfortunately, I had to let go of my podcast before it even had a real chance to get off the ground due to increasing demands at work and the lack of time and energy I had to keep up with editing/interviewing. I am always inspired, grieved, saddened, angered, and motivated by the many adoptees stories I hear – motivated primarily to elevate adoptee voices in whatever shape or form that may take. It’s always important to be mindful of the fact that though an adoptee may have had a positive adoption experience, there is still undoubtedly loss, trauma, and frequently a longing to connect to his/her cultural roots. That may mean searching for one’s birthparents or birth family or traveling to one’s country of origin, learning the language, and/or connecting to other’s who have similar backgrounds and experiences. It doesn’t go away – it may ebb and flow across the span of an adoptee’s life, but it’s a part of our makeup, it’s part of our DNA and hard-wired into our brains, literally. I don’t have time to go into how separation from birth mother is trauma, but suffice it to say, there is research that supports it. Acknowledging that adoptees have a vital role in the future of how adoption occurs and are given a voice is crucial.

I work in foster care and adoption, and it’s not always easy as an adopted person. Whenever there is an adoption, it’s very difficult for me to celebrate knowing that first there was loss – loss for the first mother and child. When reunification occurs with the child and birth family, my heart makes a little leap, as reunifications are rarer. When they do occur, it is a celebration.

Despite the challenges of working in foster care and adoption, I have the opportunity to work with some resource or foster families that get it to the extent possible in their circumstances- the trauma, the loss, the necessity of keeping birth connections in the child’s life. Families are trained in TBRI, and we talk about loss, trauma, and attachment from the very first clinical interview. I don’t want to villainize every foster/adoptive family out there, as I know some foster/adoptive parents who attempt to understand the loss and trauma adoptees experience. Even so, I dare say that it’s difficult to grasp the magnitude of what being in foster care or being adopted means if you have not experienced it first hand. I observe things through the lens of an adopted person, not as an adoptive parent or case manager or supervisor, and my thoughts and opinions sometimes differ from those I work with. This work gives me an opportunity to educate foster/resource/adoptive parents. Not every family who comes through gets approved to continue the process for multiple reasons, and that’s a good thing.

All in all, I’m sad to let go of my podcast, but I have hopes of one day picking it back up, as time allows. I miss that connection to other adoptees. There are plenty of super podcasts out there. Right now, I’m digging a couple of podcasts related to intuitive eating, health, and nutrition. One is called Food Heaven, and the other is Food Psych. Two of my favorite adoptee podcasts are Adoptees On and Adapted. The Rambler was also a favorite, but the show closed earlier this year. All of these podcasts are available on iTunes – listen in – it’s totally worth it.

I sure learned a lot while producing my podcast and am super grateful for those international/transracial adoptees that I had the opportunity to connect with. Adoptee voices are truly making their way to the forefront of discussions on adoption, as they should. Let us continue to build a strong and vibrant community, inclusive and respectful of all adoptees and their unique stories.

by Photos by Lanty on Unsplash

Past episodes of Global Adoptee Talk are available on iTunes

 

a crazy little story

jared-rice-388260-unsplash“Oriental Express.” The words leapt out at me in dark green letters as I tore away at the wrapping paper. There was some “oriental-like” design in the background in pink, yellow, and purple. I stared at the license plate in my hands in horror. It was Christmas morning, 1980. Across the way, my dad sat in his favorite recliner, a broad smile lit the corners of his whiskered face. He was clearly pleased with himself. I was a high school freshman. I don’t recall what exactly I said in response to the gift, but I distinctly remember the embarrassment and confusion of it all. The pained expression on my face, I’m sure made it just as confusing for my dad. He thought that the personalized license plate specially ordered just for me was something his adopted daughter would love and appreciate, but just the opposite occurred. It was like a punch to my gut, a painful reminder of my differentness. There was no way in hell I was putting that on my car. All I truly wanted was to be and look like everyone else around me. Neither my dad nor mom understood the internal struggle that tore me up inside – a conflicted self, confused, shamed by my appearance, but even further, a suffocating separateness that was like a heavy cloak. They had never heard of the terms, “adoption trauma,” “cultural identity,” or “birth heritage,” and really, back in the day, what adoptive parent had? Clearly, no one understood the implications of trauma and separation and loss on the development of an internationally adopted child. The license plate sat on my dresser collecting dust for a little while, but eventually I hid it. Who knows where it ended up or where it is now.

I am fifty-one years old, and yet this event is still so vividly etched in my mind. My struggle with identity has lessened dramatically since that time, yet at my core, I still struggle occasionally with those same misplaced feelings of inferiority. I’m just better at identifying them now and managing them in a healthier way. I tend to be an overachiever and perfectionist, which is exhausting. I think other adoptees have this same tendency to one degree or another. I feel and sense things more acutely than maybe the average person, say for example, rejection. As a result, I’m a people pleaser. I go out of my way to win people over, which is good and bad. I tend not to deal well with strong emotions like anger or conflict. It stirs up those same feelings of fear, insecurity, and distrust. In my work, I am constantly placed in those types of situations. Yet, I can pinpoint those uncomfortable feelings now and am not paralyzed by them. Though I still don’t like the presence of such strong emotions, I can sit with them when confronted. It’s not easy, and it takes me awhile to process them. It takes time to let any negative emotions go…I am not good at letting go…but I try, and I try to learn from the process so that I can grow.

Feeling grounded is super important to me. After dealing with conflict, I’m always off-balance and have to work at getting back into a more positive state of grounded-ness. Music, art journaling, and writing help tremendously as does yoga. The practice of yoga is so centering and helps me focus on connecting to my body. I highly recommend it. Perhaps I’m writing about this now because work over the last month has been especially challenging, and I am growing my clinical skills. Dealing with our line of work is “not for the faint of heart” as one of our directors shared.

I have grown to embrace my cultural heritage and identity, yet the struggle is never really over. I continue to work on accepting me just the way I am – making peace with myself, my appearance, my professional aspirations, right here in the moment. That’s probably why I love yoga so much. The practice promotes acceptance, which is truly not an easy task. I continue to struggle with perfectionism and overachieving in almost everything I do. I’m not great at self-care, or perhaps I just need more of it! Why can’t there be 3-day weekends?! And I’m constantly working on gratitude. My experiences have made me who I am, just like everybody else, and I accept that my parents were not able to help me with the things I struggled with the most. I have many regrets about our relationship and wish that I could have been more involved in their lives as they aged. Time is short. But I was still working on my own internal struggles. It was really selfish as I look back, but I didn’t know any better. My parents did the best they knew how. One thing they did do well was model generosity and care. And that is a tremendous gift. I can’t undo the past, yet in the future, I hope to get better at being okay with it. And I hope to get better at practicing generosity and care towards myself and others. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

 

 

new podcast

Hsiao_Ling_H-Logo-Final-3000x3000It’s rare that I write two posts in a row these days! I wanted to share with you a new podcast I’m launching soon called Global Adoptee Talk, a podcast about the experiences of international and transracial adoptees around the globe. The podcast will feature 1:1 interviews with other international/transracial adoptees, and we’ll discuss topics related to international adoption, race/culture/identity, search and reunion, and mental health. Please stop by to visit my new site, GlobalAdopteeTalk.com.

And, please share the podcast with your adoption community! I’m off to work now…Thank you so much for visiting Global Adoptee Talk!

landslide

You know, words often fail to give the deepest of meaning to our emotions. That’s probably why I connected so strongly to music when I was a kid and still do today. I was unable to put words to my feelings. It was too scary, and I just didn’t have the vocabulary. Music became my refuge. It let me feel what I could not say, and it was safe. If we could just sing or play a song to express our deepest fears, joys, struggles, anger, what a different world we might live in.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘throwback’ tunes – tunes that I grew up listening to as a teenager. I’m a little bias, but the 80’s really did rock the best music ever. My first music concert was RUSH at the Shreveport Coliseum in Louisiana. They were one of my favorite bands along with ACDC, The Eagles, April Wine, Night Ranger, The Police, Genesis/Phil Collins, Fleetwood Mac, The Scorpions, Journey, Van Halen, Pat Benatar – well the list goes on and on. And then there was the British pop wave – Duran Duran, (who else was in love with Nick Taylor?), Thompson Twins, Pet Shop Boys, Human League, etc. I digress…

A couple of years ago I attended an Adoption Conference at St. John’s Univeristy in NJ. Social worker, Robert L. O’Connor, gave the keynote address. I can’t remember exactly what he spoke about, but I do remember him talking about having an ‘adoption song.’ He adopted a song that gave meaning to his personal adoption experience. As a musician I thought, ‘why hadn’t I thought of that?’ So on my commute to work today, I was listening to a favorite song, ‘Landslide,’ by Fleetwood Mac, sung by the lovely Stevie Nicks. ‘That’s my song!’ I thought. It describes much of what I feel as an adoptee. If you love music from the 80’s as much as I do, you’re probably familiar with ‘Landslide.’ Here are some of the lyrics:

I took my love, I took it down

I climbed a mountain and I turned around

And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills

‘Till the landslide brought me down.

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?

Can the child within my heart rise above?

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?

Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing

‘Cause I’ve built my life around you

But time makes you bolder

Even children get older

And I’m getting older too…

Obviously, the song can be interpreted in many different ways. But I see so many metaphors and parallels to my adopted self. Growing up I didn’t like the reflection I saw in the mirror – as I’ve said many times, I had a a real struggle with identity. And, a feeling of uprootedness haunted me. I look back and see what a deeply insecure, lost child I was, detached. It was a fearful time in my life. Sometimes, I regress and feel as though I’m that insecure lost kid again despite the fact that I’m 51 and have worked hard to overcome a lot across the years. It’s almost paralyzing. It typically occurs when I feel fearful of a situation or a person, but has certainly decreased as I’ve gotten older and gained a greater sense of self.

I think in a poetic and meaningful way, the lyrics to ‘Landslide’ describe the seasons of one’s life and how difficult they are to navigate at times. Until well into my thirties, I still had so little self-awareness and just could not express what I was feeling. It was like I was numb. I think the numbness was a mask for feelings of fear. It was frustrating for others in my life. And, it wasn’t until I found my lost adoption papers that I slowly began to ‘come out of the fog’ and realize that there was a whole part of myself that I’d disengaged from in an attempt to blend in with those around me. ‘Landslide’ reminds me of the self-loathing, denial, fear, anger, lostness, loneliness, and disappointment that I once felt and hid. But with life experience, maturity, and coming to terms with who I am, those emotions have slowly evolved into compassion, forgiveness, determination, and self-acceptance. Every once in awhile, that insecure, lost child resurfaces and things turn kinda grey. There will always be loss in my life as a result of adoption. It’s complicated. But music brings peace and tenderness. All you have to do is listen in perfect silence. And then I’m reminded of how much I’ve learned and accomplished as a result of the hard things I’ve experienced. If you could choose a song to give voice to your adoption experience, what would it be???

Photo by Mayur Gala

 

ivory

RecitalMrs. Guinn placed the clunky brown headphones snuggly over my head, the giant earpieces squeezed my temples. A long, coiled cord reached across the way to a stereo where she now stood, ready to drop the needle. I had no idea what I was in store for. Mrs. Guinn had never offered to play music for me at any of my other piano lessons. Mandi, my friend next door, and I took weekly lessons at Mrs. Guinn’s house. I loved going to Mrs. Guinn’s for my piano lessons and looked forward to them every week. She lived in a quiet neighborhood in Shady Grove and was probably 30-something in age. She was married to an officer in the Air Force and had a pretty face and gentle demeanor. She reminded me of Toni Tennille of Captain and Tenille. The front living room where Mrs. Guinn taught held an upright piano on one wall and an organ against another, a large window overlooked the street. Her house was always meticulously clean and inviting. “I have something I want you to listen to today,” she said as she guided me into the family room. The headphones felt heavy against my ears as she adjusted them. I sat silently and settled into Mrs. Guinn’s plush black couch, waiting for the music to begin playing.

“Da-da-da-DUM.” “Da-da-da-DUM!” Those first four minor pitches of Beethoven’s all too famous Fifth Symphony bellowed in my ears. The music escalated, and I became completely enraptured, magically swept away. With every pulse of the bass, my heart quickened. I was only 9-years old at the time, and yet that was such a defining moment in my life. The rest of the world fell away in those brief eight minutes or so of that first movement. I was an extremely shy, introverted kid, but at my lesson the following week, I mustered the courage to ask Mrs. Guinn if I could listen to that recording again. Of course, she obliged. Little did Mrs. Guinn know how much that recording influenced me musically. One of the other things I enjoyed while taking lessons from Mrs. Guin was the monthly gatherings she held at her home where all her students performed for each other. The best part was when she performed for us on her organ. I loved watching her feet fly across the pedals.

Mrs. Guinn was a member of the National Federation of Music and entered me into my first music festival where students performed and were adjudicated. I received a superior + and was selected to perform in the Honors Recital with many other students. Kabelevsky’s, The Clown, Op. 39, No. 2, was my first performance piece ever. As I climbed the stairs the night of the recital towards the concert grand piano, it felt as though I were having an out of body experience. Somehow, I got through my piece without any fumbles and took my bow to the applause of the audience. I would perform in many other recitals, each one causing more anxiety than the last. It was something I continuously struggled with.

Mrs. Guinn moved within a year or two. I was deeply saddened when she told me her husband had received a military transfer to Texas, as I had become quite attached to her. I eventually studied with Mr. Robert Buckner during my high school years. Mr. Buckner lived in Shreveport and was quite a character. He had a piano studio behind his house, and a dachsund named Angie. I began every lesson with major and/or minor scales as a warm-up, or Hanon exercises. I felt comfortable with his teaching style and sense of humor. I decided to major in music and attended Centenary College of Louisiana where I studied piano performance, primarily because it meant I didn’t have to take a single math class. I was beyond horrible in math or anything that had to do with numbers. Initially, I felt terribly inadequate compared to my peers who seemed to have much better training musically than I did. I struggled with ear training and theory, but loved composition and piano literature. I studied with Constance Knox Carroll and absolutely adored her. She was an inspiring teacher and incredible pianist. I’m sure, however, that I was one of her least favorite students, as I was not very disciplined and did not practice as I should have, especially during my senior year. I got distracted with theatre and dance and remember her scolding me at one particular lesson for my lack of practice. She had every right to because my senior recital loomed ahead, and I hadn’t memorized all of my pieces. She remarked that it seemed like I liked theatre and dance better, and she was right. What did I know at that age? Not a whole lot. I sat there silently, not knowing what to say.

I wasn’t exactly lazy, but discipline was not my strong suit. Practicing was such an isolating endeavor, and yet in those days, I didn’t always mind it. I typically hit the practice room for four hours a day, sometimes six on the rare occasion that I was super inspired. There were times when it was such a rewarding experience to sit at the keyboard and just play without anyone listening. Those were the times when I performed the best. But in front of an audience, I lost all sense of composure. Performance anxiety plagued me. I could not control my hands; they became leaden, nor the adrenaline racing through me, and memory slips haunted me. On one occasion, several students were to perform with the Shreveport Symphony in a special recital. I was going to perform the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K414. I can’t describe how exhilarating it was to perform with an orchestra, with other musicians. It was like flying, but without the motion sickness. Unfortunately, performance anxiety got the best of me, and my memory lapsed somewhere during the development. The orchestra continued to play as if nothing happened while I sat frozen. Eventually, I wove my way back in, but the damage had been done. I barely made it through the cadenza.

After graduating college, I taught piano for a brief time at St. Mark’s Episcopal in Shreveport and another Christian school before moving to Florida. I didn’t touch a keyboard for nearly 20 years after that. One day, my mom asked if I wanted my baby grand piano, the one they bought me when I first started taking piano lessons. Of course I did, and a couple of months later, my baby grand arrived to our tiny condo in California. It took up an entire room. I started teaching piano thereafter at a Christian elementary school in Mission Viejo, CA, and eventually taught privately on and off until 2013. My piano skills were more than a little rusty, and I lamented the loss. I attempted to take piano lessons a couple of different times, but just didn’t have the time to commit to practicing with family responsibilities and work. I stopped teaching altogether in 2013 when I went back to school to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work.

I’ve now had my baby grand since 1999. It has moved with us many different times in the last several years. It’s sitting in our family room in need of a little TLC – or a lot actually. Every once in awhile, I sit down to play,  but most of my time is spent at work these days. Recently, I felt moved to find Mrs. Guinn and searched for her via Google. Amazingly, I found her, and she wrote back to me immediately. She continues to teach, perform at churches, and accompany choirs in Nebraska. Although she only vaguely remembered me, she said that she looked up old recital programs and located one dated May 23, 1976, that I performed in. She said I played a Schaum arrangement of Yankee Doodle as a solo and again in a trio performance with Mandi, my friend, and another student named Kelly Scott. I was so happy to hear from Mrs. Guinn and that she continues to teach and play.

I feel truly blessed to have been trained in piano for so many years. I wish that I’d held onto it, but I think there was a part of me that felt incredibly inadequate as a pianist, so I shut it out of my life for a spell. When I studied to become a board-certified music therapist in 2006, that passion for music came back to life. And now, I long for my piano to be more than just a pretty conversation piece in my living room. One of these days, and hopefully not too long from now, I will get back to playing, perhaps a little at a time. It’s hard to play as I compare my skills now to those days when I was playing everyday for long hours. People tend to tell me, “you should just play for yourself.” Well, it’s easier said than done. Nevertheless, music is truly part of my fabric. I can’t think of anything more powerful and transformative than music.

So, for your listening pleasure, here is one of my favorite pianists, Murrah Perahia, at the keyboard performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K. 414. To Mrs. Carroll, who inspired me to be a better pianist:

 

my new memoir!

CoverBeyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity is now live! If you have not yet purchased your copy, don’t delay. I have a few books left, and signed copies can be purchased right here on my website.  Just click on Shop to order. Kindle and hardcover editions are available via my author page at Amazon, and you can also find the book at Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.org.

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