Thursday, May 20, 2010

"agony is the easiest": a letter from my Appa

I want to feel peace and resolution over the life I now live--that is, life in "post-reunion."

I don’t want to fester or grow bitter. But, wow, I am beginning to wonder whether it's even possible to process all that has happened and all that continues to happen? Even with all the emotional work I push myself to do, I never cease to hurt. I never cease to grieve.

I have been feeling so restless.

I find myself just wanting to be DONE with being an adoptee. I'm tired. Exhausted. Frustrated. The list is endless. I want to be through with trying to “process” all these maddening emotions that make me feel like I’m being ripped in two, and then the two being pulverized into a heap of innumerable, unrecoverable bits of dust.

Sometimes, I wish that I could just walk away. That it could be as easy as that. But I can’t just walk away.

It's not like someone served me a bad meal, upon which I can send it back and request something else. I think it's evident that I'm dealing with a permanent arrangement.

Lately, I haven’t known how to put into words what I’m feeling. It’s more than just restlessness. It’s more than just exhaustion. It’s this sense that I should simply be at peace and full of contentment. And yet, I feel such turmoil and unrest.

I feel as though something is gnawing at me, but I cannot identify it. I feel on the verge of tears more days than not, but I cannot say why.

Deep down, I think I know. And I think I've tried to say it in more ways than one, and more times than I can count.

But I want so desperately to be through with it all that, at times, I just don’t want to expend any more energy trying to give any more thoughts or any more words to an experience that can feel so elusive and daunting.

I am so weary of trying to "work through it."

I wish I could simply close my eyes, take a deep breath, and when I opened my eyes again, things would be different. I don’t even know in what way.

But perhaps something more manageable. Something simpler.

* * *

In light of all this, I received another letter from my Appa a couple of days ago in which he wrote (keep in mind that these are the words that the translator chose, and I get the sense that in the actual Korean, his words were much more eloquent):

“…agony is the easiest and happiness is the most difficult thing to have in life. Emotional suffering is the easiest performance of human emotions, and to be happy is the most difficult. I hope you don’t get defeated by the emotional stirrings, but to win it over and be free from it. From now on, our goal is to make the right judgments about our actions with higher pride to lead our future.”

There is so much that I could say about what these words of his mean to me. For now, I will say that he and I certainly share the same gene pool (and we have the DNA test to prove it). Even though we barely know one another, his words resonate with me deeply and make me feel known by him and him by me.

And yet, a sadness lingers.

It is true, at least for me, that to feel agony is more natural. I am a naturally melancholy personality with a propensity toward the dramatic. Although it feels good to feel happy, it is not necessarily my default state, while the circumstances of post-reunion lend themselves quite well and very easily to feelings of melancholy and emptiness.

My Appa having a sense of this, wrote later in his letter:

“…let’s laugh a little. Here’s a funny quiz [riddle]. It might not be too funny, but oh well.

Right now, a man from Mars is driving a truck with 100mi/hr on a hwy of Georgia with apples, bananas, grapes, peaches, and watermelons. Suddenly, a police officer stopped the truck. (What do you suppose that dropped from the truck?)

The rest will follow on my next letter. If you are really curious, send me a text message.”

I couldn’t figure it out, and of course, I was really curious to know the answer, and couldn't wait until the next letter. So I sent him a text, and this is what he sent back to me:

“Speed foll down…Speed dropped. Ha. Ha. Ha.”

He does make me laugh--and cry--more than a little...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Adoptee = Paradox(?)

Adoptees experience a complex mix of seemingly opposing emotions that may appear irreconcilable. Adoptees may express thoughts that appear contradictory or incompatible.

The truth is that adoptees can think and feel things that at first exposure may seem antithetical to one another. But fear not. As has been said before, that is the paradox of the adoptee experience.

As I continue to make my own attempts at managing and expressing my personal experiences as an adoptee, I have nonetheless upset my American family at times by the things I have shared.

At one point I posted a statement that went something like this: “Whatever punk decided that being adopted is a happy story with happy endings makes me want to vomit and kick a hole in the sky.”

I wrote a post trying to clarify what I meant and what I did not mean by this statement. An excerpt from the pertaining post states:

"It’s not that my family didn’t love me enough. It’s not that I don’t love my family. When I express anger or hurt, it’s not because of what they have or have not done. It’s because of the loss and grief that I feel over what happened beyond anyone’s control.

But when I say something like, 'Whatever punk decided that being adopted is a happy story with happy endings makes me want to vomit and kick a hole in the sky,' it offends my family because they think I’m saying something about them. For the record, then, I am not saying anything about my family. I am grateful for them, and I love them.

The thing is that some wounds run so deeply and so pervasively, that they may never quite heal. And I need to feel safe enough and have freedom enough to feel the pain and the emotion that comes from feeling that loss and grief."

My point is that adoptees may express emotions, as the title indicates, in ways that often seem paradoxical. In the same breath, I can utter that I am grateful for the family that adopted me while simultaneously wishing that it had not been necessary for me to be adopted.

Contradictory? Perhaps at first glance. But ultimately, no.

I can say things like, "whatever punk decided that being adopted is a happy story with happy endings makes me want to vomit and kick a hole in the sky," while at the same time saying things like, "As far as I'm concerned I adore my parents and always will."

I am not contradicting myself.

It could be comparable to a young widow whose husband unfortunately died prematurely. She remarries and goes on to share a very full, meaningful life with her second husband. Does she therefore come to the conclusion that she is happy that her first husband died? Of course not. Does the fact that she still feels grief over the loss of her first husband mean that she does not love her second? Is she contradicting herself?

No. The truth is that it is complex. The truth is that there are certain circumstances and relationships that we must face that require more flexible and less legalistic thinking and understanding. What may appear to be incongruous thoughts and emotions are simply the different lines and numbers used to compose and arrive at the same shapes and solutions.

What adoptees need is not to be forced into one corner or curve of a single shape or into one equation or formula of a single solution, but rather to be permitted to explore all the angles and edges, all the components and calculations that characterize life as an adoptee.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Did you ever get to see your [Korean] parents' residences? (I feel like a hypocrite)

I have never written much about the actual details of my two trips to Korea last year. So, I thought I would share some small details that recently came to mind after a fellow adoptee asked me a couple of questions:

...where did you stay during your visits? Did you ever get to see your parents' residence?

The short answer to the first question is that I did not stay at my Korean parents' homes during either visit.

The simple answer to the second question is yes and no. Yes, I did set foot inside my Omma's residence. No, I never got anywhere close to seeing where my Appa lives.

In short, although my Omma's two other daughters know about me, they have no desire to meet me. My Omma and her youngest daughter happen to live together. I think you can figure out the implications on your own.

[But for those who would prefer for me to spell it out: My Omma brought me to her home only when her daughter was at work. According to my Omma, my Omma did at one point present the idea of me spending the night, but apparently that suggestion did not go over well.]

My Appa's wife and children know nothing about me--I'm a secret. Again, I think you can deduct, then, why I never saw where my Appa lives, and even more so why I did not stay with him during my two trips to Korea.

* * *

So, where did I stay?

During the first trip, since we traveled through a "Birthland Tour," all of our accommodations had been pre-arranged for us. Our time was divided between staying at hotels and at the Eastern Social Welfare Society Guesthouse.

The second trip, ironically enough, I stayed at the home of someone else's (a dear friend and fellow Korean adoptee who had reunited with her birth mother several years prior) birth family, while I also stayed for a couple of nights with a good friend of mine, a Korean adoptee living and teaching English in Korea.

It's a strange thing to be in the same city as my Korean parents yet to be unable to stay with either one of them in their homes.

* * *
But for the sake of full disclosure and honesty on my part, it's more complicated than that.

At one point, my Omma had wanted to pay for a hotel room for a couple of nights so that she and I could spend the night together like mother and daughter. She had walked me to the hotel she had picked out and showed me the rooms the hotel offered. I let her make the reservation.

But eventually, I choked like a chicken. I backed out. I could not bear the thought of sharing the same bed with my Omma, which is what would have been required had we stayed at the hotel. I felt simultaneously sick yet relieved when I asked the social worker to explain to my Omma that I needed some rest and a few days to take a break.

* * *

So, who's the hypocrite now? In a way, I felt as though I was rejecting her efforts to connect with and reach out to me. I felt as though I was the one not reciprocating her affection and desire to be together.

As much as I have blogged recently about how guilty and traitorous I feel for being hurt that my American family has not made attempts to reciprocate my Korean family's gestures and gifts of outreach, I feel just as guilty and traitorous for not yet feeling comfortable with my Omma in the way that I feel comfortable with my Mom.

I know in many ways, it is perhaps natural to feel this way. I have spent every day of my life knowing my Mom for almost 35 years. She is indubitably and indelibly familiar to me.

My Omma, on the other hand--even though we share unquestionable and evident biological and genetic ties--is practically a stranger to me. Although there are ways in which I feel connected to her that are irrevocable and inexplicable, there are also ways in which I feel distinctly detached and distant from her.

So as much as I may rant and rave about the lack of effort on my American family's part to reciprocate my Korean family's outreach, it is not as though I have not done the same.

There are times I don't want to write a letter to my Omma. There are times I feel so overwhelmed and exhausted emotionally that I don't want to spend another minute having to think about or deal with it all. There have been times I have thought unspeakable thoughts and pondered unmentionable possibilities as a response to all the guilt, conflict, and turmoil I feel over the Pandora's box I have opened. There are times, I ask myself, what the crazy have I gotten myself and my family(ies) into? What was I thinking?

* * *

But then, I remember that I didn't get myself into this tangle of heartache and joy, grief and hope. I was practically born into it, and certainly without my choice or my control.

I was thinking that it was only natural for someone to want to know from whom and from where she came, and why and how she ended up here.

It's true. I did choose to search. But I did not choose to be relinquished by my original parents and adopted by a family from a foreign country on the other side of the world. I did not choose to spend my life knowing nothing of my origins or of how I lost my original family.

How can it be wrong for me to want to know the most fundamental truths about how I came to be and who I am--the truths of which those who have had the luxury of knowing take for granted and dare to accuse someone like me of something like treason or treachery.

It is a misperception to view me as such. It is a misconception to view me as an ungrateful, angry daughter who had to go and selfishly rock the boat.

It is neither selfish nor angry, ungrateful nor treacherous to want to explore one's beginnings, for they help define and explain one's past, present, and future. And there is nothing selfish or ungrateful about wanting to keep with you all those whom you love and who love you.

As I have noted before: No, despite what you may believe, I am not rocking the boat. I am simply attempting to steady it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

New York Times article written by a birth mother...

New York Times article written by a birth mother who has been participating in the open adoption of her son for the past ten years.

Click on the title, Open Adoption: Not So Simple Math, to read the article.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I am not a traitor

Why should I feel like a traitor for having the hope that both of my families could one day come together? Why should I feel like a fool for desiring that both sets of parents would have mutual respect and consideration for one another? Why should I feel like I am asking for too much to wish that both sets of parents could acknowledge the crucial role of each part in my existence?

Why should I feel like a terrible person for experiencing hurt and pain that none of the above is happening?

It’s as though my expressions of longing for a day when my American family and my Korean family could sit in a room together are treated as ludicrous, naïve, insensitive, and selfish. This harsh treatment of what seems to me a very natural desire pierces me in the deepest places of who I am.

It’s not as though I am not already aware of the obstacles that such a hope will face. It is not as though I am not already drowning daily in the dissenting arguments and disagreements that people so readily pour out.

“Well, your parents come from a generation when people who adopted never expected to have to deal with the biological parents. You need to understand this.” Yes, thank you, I am fully aware of this fact. Remember, I’m the adoptee who has had to live with this truth on a daily basis. Remember, I’m the adoptee who continues to have to manage the consequences of decisions that were made for me, over which I had no control. Oh, don’t worry, I understand this more than you will ever know.

“You can’t expect people to change so readily, especially at such mature ages.” Really? Okay, then, I suppose with that kind of thinking, we should just let racism and bigotry run rampant, and lower our expectations that people need to change even if they don’t want to change.

I know I am ranting a bit here, which is a divergence from my usual tone. But I’m really struggling right now. Quite honestly, I’m tired of people telling me how I should deal with my adoption. I’m so tired of people telling me what I need to understand about adoption. I’m tired of adoptive parents always being the ones who are defended, lauded and justified, while I get pushed around, smothered, and consistently misunderstood.

Listen, it’s not that I don’t absolutely love my parents. I also happen to admire and respect them. I'm not saying that they are not wonderful parents. By ranting here, I'm not discounting all that they have done for me over the years. As far as I am concerned, I adore them and always will.

But why do I feel as though I always have to add a disclaimer to almost everything I say? Why is it that if I have any type of criticism regarding how adoption is viewed and treated, it automatically negates the very clear truth that I have expressed repeatedly—that I love my American family and would never want to be without them. But just because I love them doesn't mean that I am not hurt by the great chasm between my American and Korean parents--all the more so because I love them. Just because they love me does not mean that I am not pained by their passive and silent resistance toward my Korean family--all the more so, because they love me, and my Korean origins are a part of me.

[I do feel compelled to clarify, however, that my American parents are incredibly loving and have been supportive in their own way of my "reunion" with my Korean parents. They even contributed a considerable amount of money toward the cost of the first trip to Korea, and even took me back to visit Korea when I was 10 years old. Their resistance toward my Korean family I believe truly is because they love me and feel so protective of me and of our relationship. I almost feel guilty for posting this entry...and I hope that if any of my family should happen to stumble upon this that it will not be misinterpreted as an attack on their very real love for me. These are simply the realities of post-reunion, but they should not be misconstrued as a reflection of an absence of love...]

Are we as human beings perfect? Do we not make mistakes that result in pain and suffering? Am I permitted to share what I feel only as long as I attach to it warm, fuzzy feelings?

I. Am. So. Tired. So tired of always feeling like I’m the bad guy in all of this. So tired of feeling like I’m the one who did something wrong by wanting to know my origins. I’m tired of feeling like the one who has to defend myself. I’m so tired of feeling like I’ve committed a crime against my American family for wanting them to know my Korean family.

How many times do I have to explain that I did not search for my origins to find a new family? How many times do I have to justify that what I am doing is normal, natural, and NOT wrong. Why is it so unacceptable to want my American parents to meet my Korean parents and vice versa?

Those of us who are married have all kinds of in-laws. Are these in-laws a threat? (Generally-speaking, no.) It’s generally accepted that once we marry, our family expands to include our spouses’ parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, etc. Can we not have a similar view of adoptive and biological families?

Just as can be the case with in-law relations, I am not suggesting that such a transition will always be easy or simple or without complication. I’m not suggesting that it is not potentially emotionally challenging for all parties involved. But I am suggesting that it should be not only acceptable, but also viewed as normal, healthy, and natural.

Why am I treated like a crazy person for hoping that my family could also include, what? Some alien life form or the practice of polygamy? Nope. Just my actual biological parents.

Now, again, I realize that to do so is more complicated than to say so. But the fact that something is complicated does not therefore mean we should not attempt to do it.

So, please, don’t tell me what I need to understand about the complexities of adoptive families in post-reunion. Don't tell me what I should and should not expect. Don’t tell me that I need to be “okay” with the ongoing distance between my two families.

Don’t tell me that I just need to understand it.

I do understand it.

I have to live it.

But that doesn’t mean that I, therefore, am supposed to simply sit down and stick with the status quo. Understanding something doesn’t always mean leaving it be. Understanding often serves to compel us to action, to change, to doing something to improve the situation.

If you want to help, the most and the best you can do is simply to listen, and not try to "fix it" with remarks and statements that serve to do nothing but justify the brokenness of the status quo while diminishing from the very real pain and confusion that I experience.

I do realize, ever so clearly, the realities of my situation. I realize that it is very possible that things with my family may never change. But it won’t be because I didn’t try. It won’t be because I just shrugged my shoulders in resignation to be “okay” with it.

I know that ultimately I can’t force other people to change their minds, and I can’t make their decisions for them, nor do I want to do so. But I can change, even amidst obstinacy. And I can hope, even against all odds. So, don’t tell me what I can and cannot hope for, and what I can and cannot change by changing myself and working for change otherwise.

Cynicism and fear of disappointment won’t help or change a thing.

And I happen to be someone one who still believes in help and in change.

If that makes me crazy and a fool, then so be it.

[click here to read a related poem, Dissident]


i am not a traitor.

but i feel.



I have not committed


and yet i hear.



the silent accusations.

like snakes in my ears—








i have not engaged in


yet i feel.

as though i am

choking and swinging.



who has become

an infidel.

but i am not.


yet i am permitted the choice of only


despite the inescapable mathematics of


in which,

1 = 2.

the solutions to

family and humanity

require a flexible arithmetic.

that calculates for the presence and absence

of variable absolutes =


you mutter.

so, i mutter back—i

will cease utilizing cliché


i am no longer considered a



1 and 2

no longer equate

to being at odds

with the variable absolutes


family and humanity—

when I can look into

the crowds.

and see more


an Ungrateful