#89 Barb Lee

I already blogged about the fantastic documentary Adopted, directed by Barb Lee.  It shadows an adult adoptee, Jen Fero, as she struggles with identity issues and more.  And another couple as they begin the process to adopt from China.  It’s a great film – one every adoptive family must see.

Last night I sat down to watch the training DVD that came with the documentary.  I wasn’t really that excited about watching it.  But I got asked to write a review about it, so I plopped it in, grabbed a small sheet of paper in case I wanted to take any notes, and a magazine.  So I would have something to read while the DVD was playing.  Because I was not expecting to be wowed by any stretch of the imagination.  I was wrong.

The magazine got discarded and the paper needed to be restocked.  My review is supposed to be 300 words or less.  So this afternoon, I face the challenge of finding 300 words to describe how great this video is.  Maybe it will help me to do it here, in way more than 300 words, and then whittle it down.

The video is divided into 5 sessions.  Total length is a little over 2 hours.  The sessions are Intentions Behind Adopting, Parenting the Adopted child, Multi-Racial families, Identity, and Questions.  There are many well-known people in the piece.  Jane Brown, Beth Hall, Jane Aronson, Cheri Register, Lisa Marie Rollins, Dana Johnson, Dr. Federici…just to name a few.  I think this would be an excellent tool for agencies to use in their Hague-required training.  You could spend all day with a group of PAPs, watching one session at a time, and then discussing it.  I’m firing off an email to my social worker and agency contact right after I’m done with this post, in fact.  It was a powerful video that covered all the basics.  I can’t imagine a parent watching this before they adopt and then later being blindsided by anything at all.  It’s eye-opening and denial-awakening.

But even though I didn’t need my eyes opened by anything in the film, I still got a lot out of it.  Instead of typing up something coherent, I think I’ll just type in the notes I jotted down on my papers while I watched:

  • I love how it started with the session “Intentions”.  This is a great way to, right off the bat, have adoptive parents examine why they’re there.  Did you think you were saving a child?  Did you really want a girl?  Did you try and try and try to make a baby the other way and fail?  It’s like a cold glass of water being dumped on your head.  Suddenly you’re awake.  Squirming.  And hesitantly paying attention to what comes next.

“When we know ourselves as best we can, then we’re more careful not to use the child.” ~ Dr. Robert Simmermon

  • Parenting our adopted children is not the same as parenting children born to us.  Amen to that.
  • In the section that talked about learning differences of our adopted children, Jane Aronson (Brangelina’s adoptive doc lady) said, “Their brains have to figure out how to manage all this stimulus.”  This is because they came from such a lack of.  This can “torture kids” and greatly interfere with their learning.  I like how she put that.
  • “Everybody in adoption, the child, the birth family, and the adoptive family…they’re all suffering a loss,” says Peg Studaker of Children’s Home Society.  Sigh.  We’ve heard that before.  I wanted to push pause and call her and say, “Are you assuming the adoptive parents dealt with infertility? Because if not, then I’d like to hear you explain that more.”  As an adoptive mom who didn’t go the infertility route to adoption, I get tired of hearing that.  And I would like someone to explore that in greater depths.  But seeing as how it was midnight, I decided not to look up her number.
  • Adoptive parent (and author and editor) Amy Klatzkin had a great quote: “No adoption story has a happy beginning.  Kids don’t get adopted if everything is going well in their first family.”  Those are powerful words.  If I was leading a training class of PAPs, I would stop the DVD right there and let that sink in.  Make them write it down.  This isn’t a fairy tale, people.
  • There was a whole section on issues that can arise when you have adopted kids and bio kids.  Which I found interesting.  Way back when we were making parenting plans, we thought we’d do both.  But when we examined that in more depth, we learned that Husband was indifferent. He didn’t have strong feelings either way.  I only wanted to do the bio kid thing because I wanted to experience being pregnant.  It wasn’t because I wanted a child genetically connected to me at all.  And when I thought about that in more depth, I thought – what a crazy reason to make a kid.  Just so I can see what it feels like to have one in my body.  That’s bizarre.  So we decided to adopt only.  I say this not to judge others, but to explain how we arrived with the family we have.  At one point when we were still on the fence, I remember asking my friend, an adult adoptee who has 6 siblings through adoption, one of whom was the bio kid of her parents, what she thought about all that.  Did this ever create tension between that brother and the rest of you?  Did you think your parents loved him more?  She said, No way.  But after watching the training video last night, maybe I should have been talking to her brother about what issues he may have with it all.  It’s all food for thought.
  • The section on race started out with the words that 93% of white adoptive parents who adopt a child of color say at some point, “I don’t see race.  I just see people.”  Well.  You might want to check out your eyesight, folks.  Because people come in different colors.  And just because your eyes don’t work that way, doesn’t erase the color of their skin.  It’s there.  And it has to be dealt with.  And if you close your eyes and put your fingers in your ears and sing “lalalalalalala”, your child will suffer.
  • “You can celebrate culture (values, customs, traditions, etc.) and neglect to deal with race.  Society will sometimes respond to your child based on race – what he looks like – as opposed to culture.” ~ Joseph Crumbley, D.S.W.  In other words, teaching your kid to count in Spanish or celebrating Chinese New Year will not prepare her to deal with race.  How she will be treated by others when she’s not with you.  Or even sometimes when she is with you.  These are separate issues.  And I do think race gets neglected by adoptive parents too often.  The danger of minimizing our child’s experience with racism (Oh, Honey.  I bet Johnny didn’t mean it that way…) is that it makes our kids feel like something is wrong with them.  We need to listen to them and believe them.
  • I think the race session would be great to view with older children.  You could watch it together as a great way to get the conversation started.  How old?  Well, I was going to say 9 and up.  But then there was this section where they interviewed men today in San Fransisco, New York, and other “advanced places”, and asked them what they thought or knew about Asian women.  Wow.  I choked.  Parents of Asian daughters, beware.  That section will be hard to watch.  And I don’t think I’d want my 9 year old daughter in the room with me for that either.  But my 15 year old?  Youbetcha.  She needs to hear it since it’s what people think.  She needs her parents to recognize that it’s out there and prepare her for it.
  • We need to TAKE THE LEAD on conversations about race.  I can’t neglect this topic or assume it’s their job to figure it out.  It’s my job to prepare them to be an adult, and racial issues are a big part of that.  Just like sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, I have to take the lead and initiate the conversations.
  • It’s a common pitfall that we think our kids will tell us how they’re doing and what they’re hearing.  They won’t.  And it’s for 4 reasons: 1. They don’t want to hurt us.  2.  They don’t think we can handle it.  3.  They feel ashamed.  4.  What could we do about it anyway?
  • Cheri Register talked about the concept of the “perpetual foreigner.”  That for the rest of their lives, our kids would go places and get treated like an outsider.  For my kids it would be:  Are you here legally?  How come you speak English so well?  Where are you from?  etc. etc.  That exhausts me to think about it.  And I won’t have to live it.
  • There was the visual of the bead activity that I love.  Where you place an empty clear cup in front of the parent.  And a box full of colored beads.  And you ask them to drop in a bead that represents the child.  And then one for the child’s immediate family.  (So for my kids there would be three brown beads and 2 white for the five of us, etc.)  Then you do his teacher, his best friend, his neighbor, dentist, babysitter, and so on and so on.  And you look in the cup.  And gulp.  I have lots of thoughts swimming around in my brain about this.  But I will save it for a later post as this one is long enough already.
  • There was a session where they interviewed white college boys about the likelihood of them marrying a female who was not white.  And what they said.  Their faces were blurred, if this gives you any indication.  One thing that I hadn’t thought about before was how many might feel like they were open to it, but wouldn’t consider it because of the shock to their parents and/or grandparents.  So even though you think we’ve come a long way with interracial families, you think about how many people worry about older generations in their own family and realize the issues our kids will face.  And these were college boys at Yale – FYI.  Not the University of Arkansas or anything.
  • Cultural Appropriation.  This is the notion that we want to pick and choose what we like about a culture.  For Americans, this usually revolves around “buying” it.  We will purchase art, clothes, and food from a culture and feel we have expanded ourselves.  We say we are willing to become a multi-cultural family, but what we really mean is that we are willing to consume it.  We’ll pay for the stuff and sit back and feel good about it.  But are we really embracing the culture?  We are urged to let go of the museum culture and embrace the culture our kids will have.  Instead of buying pretty outfits in China, make friends with Chinese-Americans here.  And embrace their culture.  Because that is the culture that our kids will most closely identify with.  When we do that, our kids will likely want to explore the culture of the mainland (food, language, etc.) in a more natural and gradual way.
  • There is a developmental period when we need mirroring.  We need to look around us and see ourselves through the adults in our world.  How can a child of color do this in an all-white setting?  When people say, “We are going to adopt but we live in an all-white town and we can’t move…” there really is no good conclusion to that sentence.  Period.
  • I actually have a note scribbled in the side of the page here that says, “Mental note: When we move, our next pediatrician must be Latino.”
  • Money issue – There was an interesting scene where they touched on the money at each window of the offices in China.  But no real mention of the money paid directly to birthmothers in Guatemala, which I found interesting.  That could have been addressed.  Although later when child trafficking is talked about, we are advised to validate with our child that it does happen.  We shouldn’t deny that because that sets them up for confusion and a need to defend later in life.
  • The Hague Convention is listed as a possible solution to this.  Sigh.  The two agency employees who talked about the treaty didn’t come across as the most knowledgeable on the matter.  I felt like they weren’t sure what they were talking about, but quickly shifted gears into how this would impact them and potential adoptive parents.  And there is a positive impact there.  But I don’t think the Hague is solving our problems by any stretch of the imagination.  Case in point, an agency I know who definitely trafficked in Guatemala is still in business.  Just operating in other countries.  They didn’t get their Hague accreditation…but that doesn’t stop them.  They can just operate under the umbrella of another agency who did.  And I really need to stop here before I go off on another topic that is an entirely different post all together.
  • Beth Hall.  I’ve read her stuff for years and think highly of her, but have never seen her talk in real life before.  Wow.  She’s amazing.  I mean I had to fight the urge to crawl through the TV set into her lap and let her mother me.  This woman gets it on a level that I hope to achieve someday.  I could have written down almost everything she said in the video.  But I’ll leave you with one last quote, which happens to be hers:

“We need to talk about race.  We need to talk about culture.  That means we need to sit down at our dinner table every night and be a family…I think that’s what drew every adoptive parent into adopting their child.  See it as an opportunity.  It’s rich.  It’s hard.  But we don’t become close by skating along in the park and having easy days.  We become close with the people who are there for us in the hard stuff.  And that’s our job as parents – to be there for kids in the hard stuff.  And if you do that, you will be a close family.”

Powerful words.

So in conclusion: go get that damn video if you haven’t already.  If you work in adoption, you need to make sure that all your families see it.  For the rest of us, we need the reminders of what we are dealing with and how important it all is.

Thank you, Barb Lee.  Well done.  Well done.


3 responses to “#89 Barb Lee

  1. And *I* am thankful for *YOU* because you’re the one who inspired me to buy this DVD. Hubby & I watched it earlier this year and I couldn’t agree more – it was AWESOME. I have it loaned out right now to an acquaintance who adopted from China. Thanks for the reminder to share it with the local adoption agencies… I need to do that for sure.

    I’m excited to have just learned of a local Hispanic dentist… haven’t had the same luck with pediatricians though.

    I wish we lived closer to each other so I could soak up your wisdom and positive energy in person (plus our kids would have a blast). Maybe we’ll meet up in Guatemala next year. 🙂

  2. This is a fantastic reflection. I would like to view this DVD, as well. Perhaps share it with, ahem, the entire therapeutic and adoptive family community here!

  3. Pingback: #95 Winning Free Stuff « one year of being thankful

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