Ordinary Day

Today is a snow day and it’s an ordinary day.  I’m home with the toddler who is snuggling on the couch while I type this.  Spongebob is on in the background.  The tot is wearing his new cloth training pants. He is on his way to being potty-trained.

I have learned not to take ordinary days for granted.  I remind myself not to take my tot’s milestones for granted because I was not where he was.  When I was his age, I was still catching up in development and having at least 20 hours of OT / PT / Speech.  My mom still worries about my tot meeting his milestones because she worried so much about me meeting mine.  I am grateful that my little guy is developing like a typical toddler. I am happy for his ordinary days because when I was his age, doing ‘ordinary’ toddler things required an extraordinary effort.

A reminder of loss with every victory

Something got me thinking while I was watching The Mandalorian.

Our main character, Mando, watches the welder in his Mandalorian village cast a new shoulder plate from the Beskar metal he received as a “retainer payment” by his contact at the bar. As the welder hammers this new piece of armor into place, the clangs of her hammer against the metal take his mind back to the gunfire and/or explosions heard in his flashbacks to his childhood. We are transported to his memory where his parents place him in what looks like an air-raid shelter during a battle in an urban setting. It is assumed that someone from the Mandalorian tribe finds him and he is raised on their planet with their customs. We assume, as the episodes go on, that we will learn more about his past through these flashbacks.

These flashbacks have, so far, all taken place in the welder’s shop. As Mando earns more raw material from his missions, the welder creates new pieces of armor. Again, each time she hammers a new piece, he flashes back to his war-torn country of origin.

As Mando progresses in his victories as a mercenary, it opens up another part of his past. Part of it is a clever narrative device to tell his back-story, but another part of it resonates with me.

As I go through life and see what I’ve gained: an education, a career, a spouse, a stepson, and a son, the more I see what I lost. I lost the chance to bond with a parent from day one. I lost experiences like someone celebrating me rolling over, sitting up, etc. that most kids experience in infancy. I didn’t have proper medical care until I came to the US.

I am grateful for the victories I have in life, but as I reflect on those, the losses become real. As I tell my stepson that I know he works hard at school through his mild learning-disability, the loss of having the burden of feeling that my own disability caused mother pain is highlighted. As my toddler went through his first 18 months of life, every hug and every kiss he had since day 1 reminded me that I did not have that until my mom took me in to my forever home.

Yes, I move forward, but I can’t escape my past. Do I let it wear me down, or do I let God reshape and transform the pieces so I can move forward, accomplish more, and move toward being more whole?

A Deep Need for Love

My bank account was debited for my annual WordPress subscription this month reminding me that I have not been using my money’s worth on a regular basis.  I seriously need to get better at blogging more regularly.

Now that the toddler can keep himself entertained in the living room while I type at the dining room table, my posts will be more frequent.

Recently, I was having a conversation with someone from college and we were talking being part of a group that we didn’t realize had really unhealthy group dynamics.  This was a church group, so we thought it was legit. Many are, but some aren’t.

I longed to be part of something.

I longed to be accepted and loved.

I longed to make a difference.

This group gave me the promise of all of that.  This group promised that if I did the right things, said the right things, acted in a certain way, God would truly accept me – not just merely die to redeem my soul  – but count me as one of the good kids.  Doing things His way means that His sacrifice for me was not in vain.  I believed saying and doing the right things within the group would land me one of the cute Christian college boys that I had my eye on.  Because I wanted to get married.  I wanted that deep connection with someone.  I was taught that for women, marriage was what we were made for, so I would not be complete until I was married.

I wanted to feel complete because I had a giant hole in me for my whole life.

The hole of being abandoned as an infant.

The hole from insufficient emotional care I received in an institutional orphanage.

The hole of unresolved trauma as I grew up.

This group could fill it so I didn’t think anything bad about it.

I am not part of that group, but not because I was mad at them. I left to pursue a career change.  I only saw the negative influences of the group once I had some distance.

That got me thinking about how else can holes left by loss and trauma be filled? Can they be filled with entertainment, by success, by a spouse, by children? These things can’t fill us completely, and in some cases, if we use a person to fill that hole, our need takes away from the other person.

Only when we are truly on the path to being healed can we find a group, a spouse, a person that we can truly healthily love.  Only when we are on that path to being healed can we recognize what is true love and what is harmful.

Thankful for Adoption

I have about half an hour to write a blog post before the toddler and daddy get home.

This will be my third blog post within the same month woo hoo!

I am thankful for my adoption. My mom gave me a chance at life.

I am thankful that I knew with certainty that I was part of a family.

I am thankful that I was wanted by someone.

I am thankful that my mom had a small college savings account for me upon graduation from high school.

I am grateful that she believed in me enough to push me to succeed in school and in life.

I am thankful for my adoption because I finally had access to the healthcare that I needed.

I am thankful Mom could afford the really strong prescription lenses for my glasses. Mom is thankful that the lenses could be molded to fit in the cute pink frames she picked out for me when I was little.

I am thankful for my numerous ear nose and throat surgeries because I don’t get sinus and ear infections as much.

I am thankful for my adoption because it made me open to being a stepparent.

Looking snazzy on the light rail
My guys! Brotherly love!

Daniel was the first kid that I carried in my heart. My first parenting experiences were of being a stepmom before I became a bio mom.

He is looking (and acting) more like Bri-Bri every day. I’ll take it – fart noises as the dinner table and all – if that means he has another adult in his life that cares for him and loves him.

I am thankful even for the hard parts about adoption.

I am thankful that dealing with a disability has made me more empathetic to others with disabilities.

I am thankful that I can empathize with Daniel if he ever says that he wishes his life story was simple like other kids’ life stories.

I am thankful that I have learned a lot about coping and that humans are pretty darn resilient with the right resources as I’ve worked through different issues around my adoption (see other posts)

I am thankful that I have this blog to share such thoughts in hopes that it helps other adoptees and their families understand the full adoption experience.

I am thankful that I am adopted.

I am thankful that so many people have helped and continue to help me heal.

I am thankful that I am loved.

Your first home

Little man will be leaving his first home in 1 week. We are moving to a new place so our place can get renovated. We are also going from a 3 bedroom to a two bedroom place because rent is expensive.

My little guy is moving out of his first little home he has known, but he has been so lucky to live there for so long.

In contrast, I did not experience this kind of stability as a toddler. By the time I was 26 months old, I had lived in two orphanages, one foster home, and had extended stays in the hospital. At 21 months old, I finally flew from Manila to snowy Denver, Colorado. I snuggled into my mom’s arms before she buckled me into the car to drive me to my permanant home.

My little man has lived in one place for his entire life. My little man has experienced stability his entire life. Every morning he enjoyed cuddles with his mom or dad. He had a steady supply of milk and formula in the fridge. Later, he could ask for crackers or cookies as he wished. My little man has never wondered if he had a home because he came home from day care to the same place every night. Every night, he could lay his little head down next to mommy or in his crib and feel safe and secure.

This is a gift that we have given him and I do hope we can teach him to appreciate it and not take it for granted.

Immigrant Adoptee

I had this nice long “How the view of my adoption story changed throughout the years” post to kick off November as adoption month, but in honor of the midterm elections, I’ll write a burning post I’ve had about immigration.

In the year 2000, I saw the line of people waiting outside the United States embassy in Manila, Philippines. My mom and I were part of a Motherland Tour group hosted by our adoption agency. When I saw that line, I knew I was one of the lucky ones because someone in America spoke for me. While I waited for a home, my mom filled out paperwork to make me hers and to make me a citizen of the United States.

As an immigrant, I have access to healthcare that many people in the world go without. I have a strong prescription that corrects my eyes the best it can while many around the world do not have access to basic eye care.

My son is a child of an immigrant. When I hear or read stories about parents crossing the borders with their children, I know they want what my child has: a childhood in America that gave them more than what they had in their country of origin.

To the immigrants waiting in line, I had to wait in line. My mom had to pay my way. Some of you have to do this. Others of you do come across the border quickly, but in exchange, you live life in fear.

To the immigrants coming to America, however you get here, you come because you want my life. You want to be the immigrant that achieves an education and gets a middle-class job. you want to be the immigrant who raises your children to not know hunger, fear, sickness from lack of medical care, or any other problem you are escaping from your country.

Our country is not perfect. I am not perfect in opening my arms to you. I sometimes resent you if you found a home here without waiting because I had to wait. My mom had to wait. My mom had to hire a lawyer and go to the state and federal courts to complete the adoption paperwork. I expect the same from you.

Yet, I look at my own story and my own son who will be a child of an immigrant and I understand why you come. Why you wait in line. Why you cross the border and live in the shadows of the legal system. You want hope for yourself and your children. You want what my mom gave me. You want a chance at the life I am living in America.

Which Family?

The picture above is of my guys at the History Colorado Center, formerly known as the Colorado History Museum. We went on an outing when I had the day off but Bri-Bri had to work.

A few weeks ago my guys (minus Daniel) visited my mom. She wanted all of us to take a picture together that she could use for her Christmas cards. She got a picture of herself with Matthew and I.

Earlier this year, we all went on a family vacation to visit the Abraham relatives (Bri-Bri’s dad’s side of the family) and Simonson relatives (Bri-Bri’s mom’s side of the family) in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

At one point, we were all wearing our Wisconsin shirts at the zoo in Omaha, Nebraska.

A family near us thought we were from Wisconsin and started talking college football with my brother in law. This Denverite girl just smiled and nodded haha.

All these family things got me thinking about which family I am from. The obvious answer is all of them, but when do I focus on my identity in each one?

I’m a mom to my boys. I’m an extra mom to one and a legal and biological one to another. I’m a spouse to my Bri-Bri. I am part of the Abrahams and Simonson families through marriage. I won’t cringe if Grandma Rosie buys Matthew a Packer’s jersey. And I have grown accustomed to generous servings of ham, potatoes, and various dishes cooked in butter and cheese that my mother in law cooks for Abrahamic gatherings.

I grew up in Denver. At the Colorado History Museum History Colorado Center (seriously, why did they change it?), I explained to Daniel that the Barrel Man was a thing. An awesome symbol of Denver Bronco Pride. And heck yeah, I was proud to show him that little nugget of Denver history. Pa (Jesse O. Sutherland) was born in Colorado Springs, Grandma was an army brat, but all seven of their children were raised in Denver. And everyone except Uncle Jess was born in Denver. I consider myself a naturalized Colorado native even t though I wasn’t born here. When I visit my mom, grandma, or aunt, I remember family gatherings, life growing up, etc. and I’m reminded of my Sutherland roots.

When I read to Matthew, I know my mom’s and grandparents’ emphasis on education is what drives me to encourage him to say words and to want to read rather than watch TV.

When I look into Matthew’s Asian eyes, I’m reminded of the family I never met. I’m reminded of my family in the Philippines. I have no legal connection to this family, but they give me my genetics and they are part of the culture and country of my birth. Matthew will learn about the Sutherland and Abraham families. He will grow up a Colorado native and a Broncos fan. But both of us will have to work at connecting him to the culture of my birth. It will be complicated, but it will enrich his story.

Obligatory Father’s Day Post

Daniel as the Flash with Super Dad

Yesterday Bri-Bri and Daniel went to Comicon. Every year I get them tickets as their Christmas present so they can have their annual “Geek Out Man-Time” day. I was really happy that Comicon was on Father’s Day this year because Bri-Bri enjoys being a dad to both boys and he could spend the day sharing his love of all things geek with Daniel who is quickly becoming his geek apprentice.

Today I made French Toast for all my guys after Bri-Bri opened his Father’s Day present of 2 work shirts and a Deadpool t-shirt. All three present were picked out by Daniel and paid for by me haha.

Father’s Day is the day I live vicariously through the boys as they celebrate with Bri-Bri. I didn’t have a dad. I had a grandpa aka “Pa” and I would wish him Happy Father’s Day, but it’s not the same. It comes close, but not the same as having a dad in the same house as your mom day in and day out. Daniel has that partially with Bri-Bri and Vincent seems like a decent stepdad for him.

Focusing on helping Bri-Bri and Daniel celebrate Fathers Day dampens the sadness I sometimes feel on this day. Father’s Day was just another reminder that I was different and not like other kids. Some of my friends didn’t have dads in their homes, but many of them were raised by their moms due to divorce or death of a spouse. Some of my friends lived with their moms most of the time and saw their dads on the weekends. Our stories were similar, but not the same.

Over the years, God has used this in my life. I’ve shared with others how thinking of God as my heavenly Father helps fill that gap, but some of the wound will always remain here during my life on this earth. I remind Daniel that he is lucky he has a dad, and that I know he wishes he could have his dad around all the time, it’s still special he has such a loving dad. I’ll remind Matthew that growing up with a dad is a gift. And I can sympathize with others in my situation that don’t have their fathers in their lives.

Safe Space

I haven’t written about my adoption as much because I didn’t have a safe place to explore it until now. I’m part of the Facebook group Transracial Adoption Perspectives and I joined as an adult adoptee about 6 months ago.

In this group, I’m not afraid to discuss the unique experience of living as an Asian person who grew up in a white household. I am able to share when I was affected by prejudice and when I reacted to something from a white person’s perspective. I’m able to admit that I had to sometimes remind myself that I was truly a part of my family because I didn’t look like anyone, but I was grateful that they chose me as a daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin, etc.

This Face group is a safe space.

This group is also a revealing space. I become more aware of how racism might have affected my experiences and how I very much see the world as a person raised in a white middle class family. Some of that is hard because I realize I have not treated people right or secretly had judgemental thoughts such as, “At least I grew up in a better part of town.” “At least I’m part of the model minority (Asian)” “At least I was educated…”

I’m learning to embrace the complexities of being born in the Philippines but growing up in white middle class America. My hope is that I can use these experiences to encourage other adopteee, educate adoptive parents, and love people better.

I will conform to belong

I will do my best to conform to belong. This thought came to me as I thought about my involvement on the Facebook page Transracial Adoption Perspectives. It’s a great group that gives non-white adoptees a voice that has often been ignored.

Conforming to belong is a norm for us adoptees. Transracial adoptees have pressure to conform because we don’t look like our families. Some would say conforming is a survival mechanism, if we feel like we might be rejected by our family for some reason. Maybe I felt that way because I was trying to make up for the hardships my mom experienced after my adoption. I was making up for it by trying to fit the ideal daughter type that my mom wanted.

This need to belong is inherent in all adoption stories because a child is leaving one family to join another. This need to belong is especially strong for me, because for me to belong, someone had to feel pain. Therefore, I had to make that person’s sacrifice worth it. I had to not just belong, but perfectly conform.

When I want off to college, I had the same ideal that I would find myself and find my identity whenever I wasn’t studying hard to maintain my academic scholarship and have a shot at getting into CU med school. I found myself and I found a set of Christian friends who really did genuinely want to be my friend and hang out. I couldn’t complain because they were nice, didn’t mind giving me rides when we would go do stuff like late night Wal Mart or Ice cream runs.

As time went on, I wanted to continue to be accepted by my friends and the leaders of my college youth group. I wanted to be accepted as one of God’s successful adoption stories as we were all adopted by Christ. So, I found myself wanting to conform to the ideal of a good Christian college student. I wanted to ace every Bible question my small group leader threw out. I wanted to be praised for knowing the finer details of doctrine and doing as much community service as my schedule would allow. I really believed I was doing the right thing, and yes, volunteering at food banks and in Sunday childcare is a good thing, but I did it to be loved.

Unfortunately, I did some unloving stuff to conform. God loves Truth, so I believed that telling people how He viewed ‘culture wars’ issues was my civic and spiritual duty, especially if I was confrontational abou it. My other friends would do this and get approval from our small group leader and college group leaders, so I followed suit. A large part of me truly thought I was doing the right thing, but deep down I wanted to continue to be accepted by my group and be one of God’s good kids, because it would be a shame for Him to waste an adoption on a bad kid. As my ‘Christian resume’ grew, my view of God became small.

After a few years out from that experience, I felt myself mellowing out and being able to think about both sides of issues instead of just reacting in a way I thought I should.

I thought my involvement in political and cultural issues was waning and becoming less intense. Then racial tensions came to a head in the mainstream media and in our national conversations (Thanks, Trump.) Then I joined Transracial Adoption Perspectives and began reading articles posted about race relations from non-white aka People of Color’s perspective.

I felt myself sliding into that need to conform my posts to belong to the group of other transracial adoptees in the group. Here was a group of transracial adoptees who started a group to give their peers a safe place to discuss all aspects of adoption, and they let me be a part of their group. Was I ‘woke’ enough? Have I shed enough white thinking to belong to their group?

I don’t mean this in a bad way or to diminish the experiences of my fellow adoptees. Some people have had terrible experiences and faced outright racism from their families who were supposed to love them and their community that was supposed to support them. That is never okay.

But I need to take a step back and ask myself if I’m saying something or agreeing to fit in and be accepted by a group, or do I believe something because I have indeed come to the conclusion that said idea is true?