Thursday, August 27, 2009


My friend Krista is dropping her college freshman daughter off at school on Sunday. This highly competent, single working mom has been hit upside the head with a plank: her youngest child will be gone in four days, which means her own life is irrevocably changing. My friend dreads the emptiness she senses just past Sunday…she realizes the opportunities inherent in ‘change’ but Krista has been emotionally gobsmacked; she was not prepared to have to explore her past and present feelings, and she has been completely immobilized by the Big Dinosaur Sitting in her Living Room…

My lifelong friend, Suzanne, flew up from Texas to clean out the house her parents built and lived in for over 50 years. I lived eight houses down from Suzanne for most of my youth, and her parent’s home was as familiar to me as my own. Suzanne’s dad died several years ago, and her mom is now living in assisted living down in Texas. Halfway through the pack-up process, Suzanne tucked herself back into her old twin bed and simply refused to get up. It was a Dinosaur Crisis! Suzanne had stumbled into a pre-history ambush. Every photo, memento and 8mm movie spun Suzanne back to her childhood, and finally forced her to witness the changes in her family (and herself) that had occurred over the last twenty-five years.

Why do we adults believe that we can handle ‘change’ with shopping lists and a few packing boxes? Our adopted children may be on to something--their hypervigilant over-reaction to transition and change may provide them with more emotional preparation than our grown-up disregard for change’s profound effects will ever provide for us. As adoptive parents, we offer a sad or scared child a safe place to talk, grieve, celebrate and plan. Perhaps we need to recognize how change provokes these connective needs within ourselves, too.

Graduation parties, weddings, funerals, baby showers, ‘gotcha’ days, coming-of-age celebrations, even kindergarten round-up; these rituals help us structure our experiences, but don’t quite finish the job of processing. Immediately after my dad died a couple of years ago, a therapist friend gave me some meaningful advice. She said, “You need to take care of yourself right now, and for the months to come.” It was so simple--but it was the heads-up I needed to understand the physical, mental and emotional impact of the grieving-integrating process I was embarking on.

It took three of us to rent Suzanne a storage unit, move her boxes and get her out of bed. Maybe we all need to form posse’s to accompany friends through our personal Jurassic Parks, and help support each other’s encounters with past history and Big Changes.

Understanding the powerful, emotional ramifications of change, and why we trigger so profoundly over both the important and the mundane (old letters between our parents, a toy we gave our 18 year old when he was in first grade, family camping trip memorabilia), opens a door and helps us find a place to put our memories, or our remorse, or the overwhelming love for individuals who have ‘left’ us. Feeling the sting of personal change, transition, or loss may also help us generate more empathic responses for our adopted children when they express (or act out) bittersweet feelings over losing their entire first lives with other families.

Dinosaurs are scary symbols of what we need to either slay or befriend (there is no escaping Jurassic Park, or the previous life choices we have made). Understanding our deeply buried, ‘ancient’ connections to events occurring today, gives us a different perspective on our surprising over-reactions, and unfreezes our ability to act.

Last month, I took my kids back to Dinosaur Ridge outside of Denver, where we gazed at real footprints made by dinos about 150 million years ago during the Jurassic Period. I like the visual symbolism of the Stegosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and Allosaurus footprints we saw walking the ‘Dinosaur Highway’; they remind me that beings may be gone but never forgotten, that extinction--of anything--is a process, and that remains of the past are supposed to be witnessed, studied and touched…


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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Back to School FREAK OUTS

Ten years ago, when my middle daughter entered preschool, I entered the mystifying, frustrating world of parenting an adopted child with major school anxiety--a world where the anxiety didn't abate with lots of mother love or the quick fixes proposed in regular childcare books or magazines.

It was Mommy Education at it's finest (meaning: I was handed a difficult opportunity to become a more knowledgeable, empathic parent and I wasn't AT ALL thrilled with the situation!). I learned what I needed to know the slow, hard way, and I was able to help my child ever-after...but it would have been so much easier to understand what I was dealing with upfront. I needed an adoptive mom mentor to sit me down with a glass of wine, and explain the over-the-top kid freak-outs surrounding school, change and separation.

So, pour yourself a whoppin' glass of Merlot and read on for the two-minute heads-up I wish I'd had in August 1999...

"Anxiety and difficulty with Transitions (such as starting School) often go hand in hand. When I talk about making transitions in my workshops, I am talking about Empowering a Child to Face Change. A child’s easy transition to new circumstances is based on an infancy and childhood of complete trust. While transitioning seems like a natural skill, it is really an outgrowth of temperament, a child’s trusting belief in a safe, secure world, and her unshakeable faith in her invincible parents! An adopted child has experienced loss and understands the terror of vulnerability; she knows that change isn’t necessarily a positive event, and deeply fears that it could mean losing parents, friends and home. It has happened before. Change forces anxieties to the surface. Understanding the real, underlying source of the anxiety is a child’s first step to coping with it.

Talk to your child about her or his anxiety and teach your adopted child that it is rooted in LOSS. Help her to understand WHY she feels and reacts the way she does. This is the first step to empowering her—helping her to consciously make OVER-RIDE CHOICES about her behavior and her physiological reactions. How does debilitating anxiety affect her: flight, fight or freeze? Let her know that she can still act and still make choices even when she is afraid. Knowing ‘why’ she feels the way she does will help her re-frame her self-image, and may eventually help her to push through fear triggers. Role-play possible scenarios in advance, so your child has an arsenal of responses to fall back on...

Let your child know that bravery means ‘doing or acting’ even when a person is afraid, and be sure to reinforce her bravery over any small steps forward--even if the step forward is accompanied by a half-step back."

It sounds so simple, doesn't it? Well, it's not an easy process. But with work and time (and outside professional help, if indicated), our children can heal. With our help, they can learn to cope, and they can select and internalize the tools to recognize, acknowledge, then obliterate, their fears.

My traumatized preschooler has grown into a spectacular 13 year old, and has a keen awareness of what she needs in order to feel comfortable in this world. She will be starting high school in the fall, and is experiencing a normal level of anxiety--along with anticipation and excitement.

Oh wait...did I say high school??? Someone, quick, please pour me another glass of wine... :)


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Saturday, August 8, 2009

NEW: Toolbox Movie Review!

Adoption-related movies are currently HOT and I sure wouldn't want to miss a trend. Orphan (the movie) made an especially heated entrance this summer. until the famously camp 'surprise ending' spoiled a chunk of our a-parent outrage.
[Click here for bizarre SPOILER]

Adopted the Movie has been gathering steam and rave reviews, and appears to be making a positive, ongoing impact on our group adoption-consciousness [Click here for intelligent CLIPS]

Sooo, I've decided to get in on the adoption media splash and add my own knee-jerk reactions to movies pertaining (sort of) to our adoptive families. Introducing...

The Occasional Adoption Toolbox Movie Mom Review...
where Family Fun meets Star Magazine

I ordered "Bad News Bears" (1976-PG) for my 10 year old from the kid's section at Netflix. We sat down recently to watch it together...I was expecting to see Walter Matthau's grumpy mug, and had a very bad creeper feeling when the opening shot of the Bear's baseball coach captured him pouring whiskey into his beer can...and far worse, Walter Matthau was looking a lot like Billy Bob Thornton...

It was Billy Bob.

Dang, they went and updated the original, lovable Bad News Bears baseball movie (re-make: 2005, PG-13). Waaay too much swearing, even for me, and lots of Hooters girls and references to crack. But still mildly entertaining, if you don't mind explaining numerous scatological/sexual references to your young child (yes, well). Billy Bob actually does a great job as the has-been big-leaguer turned pest-exterminator, showcasing that same, dark underlying energy that his ex-wife, Angelina Jolie, exudes without much effort.

Girlfriend: Angie and Brad will never last. Brad doesn't have the darkness and Angelina will eventually get very bored. Really, how could Brad hope to follow the previous Angie & Billy Bob partnership? Sure, Brad and Angie have birthed and adopted 18 children together, but it's tough to top a couple that wore each others tatts and vials of each others blood.

Adoption Toolbox film review rating for the newer Bad News Bears: Amusing but Wildly Inappropriate for children. I give it one finger up (yeah, the one they use frequently in the movie)


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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sisterhood & The Secret Life of Girls

Trusting each other can be hard
Send me a message from your heart
Together, forever
Sharing and caring
That's the secret life of girls, that's the secret life of girls...

Last weekend, Chinese Heritage Camp Too in Denver, Colorado, offered programming for high-schoolers for the very first time. The first really significant wave of China adoptees (largely girls adopted in 1995-1996) are hitting upper school age, and adoptive parents and heritage camp coordinators are scrambling to find ways to maintain the tracks laid in Families with Children from China support groups a long while back. The tsunami is rumbling; over 60,000 children have been adopted from China over the last 15 years, and the leading edge has turned into teenagers!

Thirteen young Chinese-American women from all over the USA came to Colorado Heritage Camp with their families, and promptly entered into camp's teen-world-with-a-twist. China adoption was the common tie, and it provided the easy unspoken connection that held this disparate group of girls together.

"When i was at camp i felt like i belonged - asian girls with white parents - i wasn't different and it was a nice change. Even living in a diverse area, i don't see many adoptees on a daily basis, so it felt good" my 13 year old wrote in her journal. "We came from really different places and had lots of different personalities...but it didn't matter."

You pick me up when I am down
You make me smile when you're around
All the memories are so sweet
Like the party from last week
That's the secret life of girls, that's the secret life of girls...

SISTERHOOD was the teen theme, and the girls spent part of Friday meeting with college women from the local Sigma Psi Zeta Sorority. SPZ is the only Multicultural Asian Interest Greek organization at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the sorority sisters talked and answered questions about their own experiences as college students, and as Asian American women.

Bonding was solidified on Saturday, when the teens were spirited away to the mountains where they faced "the ultimate Colorado outdoor experience" on the Challenge Ropes Course! The entire day was designed to build trust, teamwork and creative problem-solving, and the girls were incredibly supportive of each other. The tiniest step on the high ropes was cheered, and a participant's ability to overcome high-anxiety was totally appreciated by this group of kids who all understood the meaning of everyday bravery.

The teens also learned how to express themselves through songwriting, and 'group-wrote' lyrics and music around the Sisterhood motif. Jasmine Pyne, a member of the teen group, used her previous, professional experience as a singer to lead the girls through the steps involved in creating words and music. The teens performed their song, "The Secret Life of Girls", accompanied by Jasmine's dad on the acoustic guitar, at the camp's closing ceremonies over Dim Sum. If we parents needed proof that our babies were growing up, it was there on the stage in front of us...our daughters were proud to present their own collaboration, and happy to be up there with each other. There is strength in numbers, there is Sisterhood in adoption, there is power in coming together.

"When we parents are long gone" said Richard Fischer, teen program co-coordinator with his wife, Annie, and publisher of Adoption TODAY Magazine, "my hope is that our daughters will have each other."

Our daughters all went straight to the practical teen reality of staying connected. My 13 year old added: "Dim sum brunch was all pictures (i think i'm still half-blind) and passing around cell phones to capture each others info ("can you text?!"). AND if any of you guys are reading this, i miss you and luv you!"

Through the fights and the tears
All that matters - we are here!
That's the secret life of girls, that's the secret life of girls...
That's the secret life of girls!

New! Click HERE to play mp3 song download

(Lyrics and music by TEENS of Chinese Heritage Camp Too, Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved