I’ve recently had three children’s books cross my desk, two of them about adoption.
The first, “Ten Days and Nine Nights” by Yumi Heo (Random), is for families with older children who are awaiting the adoption of a younger sibling (in this case, from Korea). Ms. Yumi — who was born and grew up in Korea — writes with simple charm, and her illustrations are especially beautiful.
Ms. Yumi writes: “The first time I met a child who had been adopted from Korea — where I was born and lived until I was 24 years old — was eighteen years ago on a ski trip to Massachusetts. I was cautiously learning to step with my long skis, and he was my teenage ski instructor. It was strange to see someone from my country who was so adept at a Western sport, but is also made me feel proud of him. He had come such a long way, without his birth parents, and was thriving . . . ” She wrote this book for the many Asian children she’s known who were adopted as children; having adopted the United States as her own home, Ms. Yumi says, “I’ve always felt a kinship with these children.”
The second book, while not specifically about adoption, is nonetheless a beautiful book entitled simply “Beginnings,” by Lori Ann Watson and Shennen Bersani (Pauline Books and Media). With the eye of an adoptive parent, I was especially touched by one passage near the end of the book, which reads:
“And in the beginning — in YOUR beginning —
God thought of you, and he loved you.
He loved you so much that, at just the right time,
he chose the perfect place for you,
inside the safe, warm shelter of your mother’s womb . . .”
Though like many adoptive parents I like to tell my children that they grew inside my heart long before I laid eyes on them, acknowledging the gift of their birth — and affirming that, whatever circumstances led to the adoption, their birth mothers indeed loved them from the beginning — is an important part of helping a child make sense of his own family story. Because the truth is that, no matter how our children came to us, they were known and loved by God from the very beginning.
The third book I’d like to review today is entitled Red in the Flower Bed, by Andrea Nepa (Tribute Books). Andrea is an adoptive mother of a little girl from Vietnam, and I had the pleasure of asking her a few questions about her book:
1. Tell me a bit about your international adoption story.
Our adoption journey began when we went to Vietnam to get our daughter when she was 4 months old. We stayed there for 2 weeks, which was an incredible way to get to know a little bit about her place of birth. We loved watching her spunky personality emerge as she grew. Our biggest challenge so far was when she was diagnosed with Ewings sarcoma, a rare pediatric bone cancer, at the age of 5. (After major surgery and 8 months of chemo, she has now been in remission for 2 years).
She understood from an early age that she was adopted and sometimes would cry that she missed her birth mother. Her mourning and my inability to answer her questions about her adoption (we were not given any info. as to who her biological parents were or even the circumstances of her being given up) was part of my inspiration to write this story. Plus, I felt that somehow perhaps she was meant to be with us, since we live only 20 minutes away from the best children’s hospital in the country, if not the world.
2. What advice would you give parents who adopt an older child, and run into difficulties parenting that child — if the “flower” has difficulty fitting in their particular garden?
You have to acknowledge and respect the child’s cultural heritage no matter what age they are adopted at. The idea isn’t necessarily for the flower to have to fit in to the garden, but for the flower and garden to complement each other with their differences. It is no doubt much harder for an older child to adjust to a new family in a new culture than for a very young child. Ideally, the child should be accepted by their family unconditionally for who they are and not have to live up to expectations for the kind of person they “should” be. The garden flowers accepted the seed for who she was before they knew what kind of flower she would be. Also, I believe that parents need to be flexible in adapting to the personality of their child (whether or not they are adopted, but of course this is just my opinion!).
3. The image of “seed” can be a loaded one for some adoptive families, especially those whose children come from neglectful or abusive backgrounds. The suggestion is that — no matter what you do to raise the child, all he is and will ever be is already determined in the “seed.” How would you respond to this?
The seed retains its identity no matter where it lands, since its heritage can’t be denied and shouldn’t be ignored. Looking different is not something to be ashamed of. In the story the seed thrived and blossomed into a healthy, beautiful flower because it was given the love and care it needed. Superficially the poppy looks like her birth flower, but also in a good environment she is allowed to reach her full potential. Likewise, a child who experiences an abusive home will likely be influenced in a negative way. This is one good reason to adopt a needy child! All children deserve a loving home.
4. What do you say to grown international adoptees who long to know more about their roots, but don’t know how to begin?
I don’t have direct experience with this, but from an adoptive parent’s perspective I will say that it is important to be honest with your child as much as possible even if this means saying “I don’t know”. The child should not be made to feel guilty about asking questions about their past; it’s their right to know. The only question that my daughter asks that I can honestly answer with some confidence is when she wants to know what her birth mother looks like. She loves to hear “she looks like you”. This is another reason why I made the seed turn out as a red poppy like its mother flower. In terms of dealing with adoption issues, it is important for adoptees to have contact with other adoptees.