Saturday, August 29, 2020

Perceptions

 

Recently, I’ve been writing a narrative about my birth mom. Instead of the story centering around my birth mom and me as a child, it’s about what follows after she leaves me. I’ve only written a few pages into the story, but I’ve already learned quite a few lessons.

Something I’ve realized is that I always write her as a perfect character. And as I reflect more and more, in every situation I have ever written her in, she has never had a fault, or at least one which I didn’t control. Because of this, I have forgotten a fundamental truth: my mom is like every other person on this earth--flawed and deeply so.

Weird enough, I never realized I saw her in this light until I started to write my story. Usually, when shaping a character, I use elements and characteristics from someone who has impacted my life. If my characters were to look in the mirror, I know that their reflection would be a spitting image of me. And that is why a lot of times I do abandon my stories because more of myself comes out more than I am willing to share. Through my characters, I have the power to channel my perceptions, thoughts, and even my soul.

When I sat down to write my mother’s story, I found it more challenging than I anticipated. For the first time in my writing career (if you can call it as such), I didn’t feel like I could write this character from the parts of me that I had never shown to anyone. Why? Because this character isn’t supposed to be me. This character is my mom, and even though I am a part of her story, she holds different values and opinions than I do. I came to realize that in order to write her correctly, I had to take her out of the box I had made for her.

Even though I’m only pages into this, my perceptions have already changed. My mom is not a graceful heroine, she's not infallible, and she makes mistakes that should not be applauded. She’s young, has her skeletons in the closet, and does things that she regrets. It makes her so much more real to me, and at some moments, I can almost feel her pain, but that’s not the story I want to write. My story will be one of redemption. It will be the microphone for those voices who have never been heard over the roar of the crowds.

At the end of the day, I am aware that this is only a work of fiction, and only God, the ultimate author, can write our stories. However, I feel this is a story that He has given me for a purpose.

He gave me this story to show that perceptions can be narrow and that adoptees, in particular, can have twisted notions of their birth parents, which usually end up falling in one of two categories - good and bad. This may not apply to every adoptee or even any adoptee, but I choose to believe that while every person is flawed, everyone can have redemption.

And perhaps that’s what gives me the most closure. I know that if I never go to China, if I never meet my mom, if our paths never cross, both of us are going to be okay. She doesn’t need me for closure, and I don’t need her for closure. Wherever our stories go, I know we will both get our redemption stories.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Patchwork Quilt

People like to compare life to a puzzle, and I think there’s a lot of truth and metaphors within that phrase. However, I like to think of my life as a patchwork quilt. 

No one thing, culture, set of people, or lifestyle has defined me. I’m a unique mix of all these things; all these elements have made me into the intricate and frankly, complicated, person I am. 

I think there’s a beauty to patchwork quilts. A lot of times it’s random colors and cubes that you wouldn’t put together, but somehow it works. Back in the day, quilting groups would bring swatches of cloth that meant something, or could be linked to a memory. These small pieces of fabric, from different people, were sewn together to create a blanket that holds mysteries and memories; while all different, they come together to form a stunning piece of artwork. 

Our lives are a lot like that, aren’t they? These “swatches” are pieces of our lives, from our birth to our today; all these pieces are sewn together to create a single thing, in this case: us. Each “swatch” holds a story; it holds memories of days past and so many people have invested time and energy to ensure that it can be the best possible. Maybe, instead of imagining our lives as a puzzle that needs to be completed, we should see our lives as a quilt that is in the working, filled with days past all sewn together to represent who you are becoming. 

Now for the fun part! We are going to imagine this quilt. Have a picture in your brain? Good. Now I want you to look at some of the individual pieces of fabric.What do they look like? What do they represent? What pieces of your life make up your quilt? 

Here are some of mine: 

God. He was the first one to pick up a needle, the first one to begin this quilt. His swatch is of Him holding a little girl, who is me. All this time, He’s had his hand in my life, leading me exactly where He wants me. He’s the only one who can see the end result of this quilt, and He’s the one making sure all the threads are tight and secure, while preparing more squares to be added. 


China. One of the first sewn pieces, it’s rather big because China has made such a large impact in my life and I don’t want to forget that. I like to picture this fabric as a smaller version of the Chinese flag.

My birthparents. I can’t really imagine what this one looks like; it's just two people holding a baby. All we can see is their backs. But still, they are essential to include, even if part of that patch is a mystery. 

My family. If there’s any doubt, I love my family, and they are my people. Of course they would be one of the biggest squares on here. I like to picture this part as six people embroidered onto the fabric, all holding hands. 

My friends. This patch is interesting as it’s not as big as you would expect. But the details are impressive. Four of my closest friends are in the forefront, while shadows of other people linger in the background. I think this cube represents those who are with me, and those who aren’t anymore. It’s bittersweet, but that’s what gives this quilt so much depth. 

The Newest Flower, Okay, you guys had to expect this one. This book was written when I was trying to grasp how I felt about being different, and the opportunities and growth I’ve had from this book have shaped me in so many ways. 

Gotcha Days. I like to see this section broken into little squares, each one holding a memory from earlier Gotcha Days. It’s a bright, cheerful cube, and you have to use a magnifying glass to see all the little engravings. But this cube represents celebration, a joy that cannot be measured, so this is one of the most priceless swatches to me. 

I could go on and on about all the little moments that have brought me here, but I’m not going to do that. These are some of the most notable squares in my quilt, and these ones showcase my journey. I would like to challenge you to reflect and find out which ones best showcase your journey, and think about why. May you all be blessed as we all continue to add swatches to our own quilts. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Grief

People always talk about grief and loss when someone dies. 

“One more smile, one more brush of hands, I’d trade everything for one more chance.” 

I’ve witnessed grief, and I’ve had my share of death. And yes, there’s a part of me that would give so much to go back, to rewind the clock just so I could sit in the person’s presence.

But beyond death, we grieve for losses in our own lives. And this grief, while less understood, is just as painful and overwhelming. 

“One more smile, one more brush of hands, I’d trade everything for one more chance.” 

When I say this quote outloud, the first person who comes to my mind isn't a relative I've lost to death; it isn’t even my old friends of whom I've grown apart from. 

Who I’m actually grieving is my birthmother. 

What we don’t realize is that grief isn’t something you just put in a box and bury. 

Something I wish I had been told years ago is this: You can still grieve someone who is still alive.

Up until now, I never realized the fact that I needed to grieve. And maybe that is why the Lord gave me a vivid dream of a mother who was in desperate need to find her lost daughter. When He gave me this, it showed me just a fraction of the grief that she was feeling, and in turn, made me realize that I, myself, am grieving. 

And so, as I came to this conclusion while writing a letter to my birthparents, in honor of  Mother’s Day, I commented on how much I just wanted to be able to hug her and tell her just once, in person, how much she did for me--just like how the mother in my dream so desperately wanted to do the same and hug her long lost daughter. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

"Do You Feel Chinese?"

Despite looking physically different from the majority of people I’m surrounded by; most of the time, I don’t even realize that I’m Chinese. Even when I’m looking directly in a mirror, the fact that I’m Chinese is more of a second thought. I mean, I’m not American, but I’m pretty sure that they don’t look at themselves and think, “I’m feeling quite American today.” 

Which is why I’m always baffled when people ask, “Do you feel Chinese?”

Sometimes, I want to answer, “No, I feel like a Canadian,” just to see their faces. But in all seriousness, I don’t really see a need for this question because it’s almost, in some sort of weird way, like making me choose between my American upbringing or my Chinese heritage. I can’t choose because both have and will continue to influence my life, my choices, and shape who I am. 

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have moments where I just feel Chinese. Those moments happen when I huddle in with my volleyball team and notice that I’m significantly tanner than everyone else. I also feel it when I put my contacts in, and my eyes are refusing to stretch anymore, thanks to my almond-shaped eyes. Additionally, I feel it when I have nothing to share with a group about the first three years of my life. 

To answer the question in the most honest way I can, I do feel Chinese: I feel it every once in awhile--like a gentle voice telling me I am not in the same place I started. And sometimes, that thought makes me feel anything from angry to sad. These thoughts can make me feel out of place, momentarily awkward, or will make me question who I am and why God placed me here of all places.  

But then, I stop and reflect . . . I take a look at what I’ve been able to do because of my Chinese heritage. My rich history was what kindled me to write The Newest Flower. It’s because of this history that I can go into classrooms and encourage kids to embrace their differences. Every book event I’ve ever done was because of my Chinese heritage. This entire blog is dedicated to the fact that I’m Chinese. But perhaps the most telling is when I can look in the face of a little girl named Nadine and say that my Chinese background helped her get home. 

And all of this has happened, not in spite of being Chinese, but because I am Chinese. So if you ask me today if I feel Chinese, my answer would sound a little like this, “Yes, because some of my greatest moments have been because of my Chinese heritage, and it’s part of who I am.”

Monday, November 4, 2019

All You Can Ever Know Book Review

Seeded in all of us is the desire to know, to chase after facts, and to grow in knowledge of the world around us while discovering who we are. Adoptees are no different; in fact, their quest to find answers is even more profound at times, and in the memoir All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung, she dives deep into her wish to know the story about her adoption. 

In the very first few chapters, Nicole tells us about her background. Adopted as an infant, she never knew anything but what her parents chose to tell her, which to her frustration, wasn’t very much. With these shreds of information, she attempts to find her place as the only Korean in her little town. However, when she goes to college, she meets like-minded people and fellow Koreans, feeling for the first time in her life, that answers were within her reach. 

But not until she’s pregnant with her own child, does something truly stir inside of her. The seedling of fascination from her youth was plaguing her, and when her child was old enough to ask questions, she wanted to be able to answer them. After a few weeks of consideration, she takes the leap of faith and hires an adoption intermediary to gain access to files that hold the names of her birth family.

It turned out that the picture-perfect ideal she imagined as a girl was faded into a harsher reality. But as Chung reflects, she shares about how learning about her past made her realize that adoption isn’t black and white, right or wrong. It’s an intricate web of emotions, and there’s no exact way to go about it. One of my favorite quotes that truly encaptures her journey is this: “Today, when I’m asked, I often say that I no longer consider adoption—individual adoptions, or adoption as a practice—in terms of right or wrong. I urge people to go into it with their eyes open, recognizing how complex it truly is; I encourage adopted people to tell their stories, our stories, and let no one else define these experiences for us.”  

To say this book is eye-opening would be an understatement. As an Asian adoptee myself, I connected with her stories of not fitting in and how she imagined a different reality where she was with her birth family. Chung shared her deepest, most secret thoughts and they made me look at my own story differently. For example, I’ve never been against the prospect of finding my birth family, but I’ve never thought about what would happen if I actually did. After reading this, I sat down and journaled my thoughts, and realized that I do want to try to get those answers, but not immediately. Something unique about this story is that she spends her whole life wondering, but doesn’t act upon it as soon as she can. She waits, and even spends time considering if she wants to, which emphasizes that it’s okay for adoptees to be hesitant and to take their time because it’s not always about having answers, but rather it’s about being emotionally ready for those answers.  

As much as I loved the candidness of this book, it felt rather cynical at times. I realize that I am not always the most optimistic person, but in this book, especially in the beginning, I felt like Chung’s views on adoption were one-sided, which might may have developed because she had no exposure to people like her. Despite this reasoning, it made the first few chapters difficult to read because I didn’t agree with her frame of mind. Adoption isn’t inherently good or bad, it’s a beautiful mix of both, and with all the negativity surrounding this subject, I think it is important to weigh both sides of the coin. 

Altogether, there is a reason this book was nominated for awards such as being a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, was named a Best Book of the Year by the Washington Post, and is one of the most popular memoirs to date. It was groundbreaking in the adoption world, unapologetically outspoken, yet held together by a subdued voice, longing to be heard. Even though there were parts of this book I didn’t agree with, this is a book I would highly recommend to any adoptee who has a desire to learn about their roots. 

Friday, October 4, 2019

The Length of a String Book Review

Just how far can our roots connect us to our past, how does our DNA shape us, and how far is the length of a string? In the book, The Length of a String, by Elissa Brent Weissman, we meet Imani, a Jewish girl who’s nearing her bat mitzvah. She knows what gift she wants: the chance to find her birth family. Living as a person of color in a predominantly white community is rough, and Imani wants answers to the questions she has about her birth parents.

When Imani’s grandmother dies, Imani and her brother Jaime are left all her books. While sorting through them, Imani finds an old journal, dating back to the Holocaust times. As she reads through the journal with her best friend Madeline, she finds out that her grandmother’s story is similar to her own and reevaluates what the word “family” truly means. 


I quickly found myself falling in love with this story and Imani. Many authors don’t understand that while adoption can bring up hard questions and be the spark for self-discovery, adoption isn’t by definition horrible and depressing. Author Weissman, in my opinion, accurately wrote Imani, who despite having a loving family, wants to know more about her roots, which I closely relate to. This story shows that there’s not always one right way to handle something, but there can be many wrong ways. Finding out who you are isn’t always easy, and what you think you want isn’t always what is needed. This is a book I would highly recommend for both adoptees and non-adoptees. Imani is a great, well-written character, the story is well developed, and the journey to self-discovery is one every person can relate to, even if they are not adopted.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Find Me Movie Review

Here's my second movie review!

Find Me Movie Review:

There’s something so special about hearing someone’s adoption story. It’s personal and intimate, and in the documentary Find Me, directed by husband and wife duo Dave and Kathi Peters, we get the rare chance to follow several families whose lives have been changed by adoption.

The first family we meet are the LeSeur’s, good friends of the Peters, who bring a camera with them to China to film the adoption. Watching Hayley, the little girl, get adopted is heartwarming, but only moments later do we see her nanny crying in the hallway. Something so unique about this documentary is that we get to see the nanny that took care of Hayley for almost three years, a perspective that is not addressed often.

When the LeSeur's arrive back, they sit down with the Peters to share their story, and the group quickly decides to return to China, and and try to locate their daughter’s “finding place,” the place where children are left, usually with blankets and a note. While they planned their trip to China, Michael Rottina, an advocate for a Chinese orphanage, called them, asking them to help him by raising awareness to the many orphans of a recently flooded orphanage.

Along the way, we meet two other families, the Greens, and Zimmermans, who both end up being in China at the same time. The Greens are a family of ten, seven of them have special needs, and that is what parents Jeremy and Christianne say make them a family. Merle and Kim Zimmerman are heading to China at the same point to adopt their eighth child, Lucy, who suffered from a condition called Congenital Vertical Talus. From the point of an outsider looking in, it’s incredibly powerful to see the moment where you meet your newest family member, and this film documented these moments perfectly.

Because the focal point of this documentary is to showcase the families, the filming is far from perfect, and oftentimes moments sound over-scripted. I was able to overlook most of these occasions because I was so encaptured by the content. Overall, this film was a candid and touching showcase of both the challenges and beauty that comes along with adoption.

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