Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I meant to write it all down.
All of those witty, profound things kids say? I was supposed to capture my children's most brilliant declarations in a journal. I didn't. Slammed by life, I guess! I'll go for "parenting has made me a better person" instead, meaning I vaguely reference "life experience" whenever scrapbooking or journaling or mommy diaries ever come up. Which is maybe why I love this semi-ancient blog post from 2004. I've forgiven myself for neglecting to write it all down ... but it feels so good to read and remember.
A WISH NOTE HOLIDAY
Molly cooked us a wonderful pancake breakfast this morning, to celebrate the first day of Christmas vacation. The conversation turned to gift-giving (and getting!) and card-sending, and what needed to be accomplished this week.
"I need to send Aunt Jennifer a thank you note for the purse she gave me," Molly said.
"I've already sent her a thank you for my gift," Hanna announced. All eyes turned to the 5 year old. "I sent her a Wish Note," she added.
"What exactly is a Wish Note?" I asked, with eyebrows raised.
"It's when you stand very still and send a person a Thank You in your head," Hanna answered. It was a nice try, performed with bravado, and I congratulated Hanna on her creativity.
Wish Notes. A great concept! I am wish-noting you a very Happy Holiday as I type, along with grander wishes for children in need of families, and an end to their deprivation and neglect. I believe in the power of a good wish note, and the good energy of people who send them. If I don't see you over the holidays, I am sending you a *hug*-- did you feel it?? I wished it. And I'm seriously concentrating on wishing you a truly wonderful new year...
Copyright 2004-2010, MacLeod. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Beyond the ACT, SAT and Financial Aid…
My 15 year old daughter from China attends a ferociously academic, heavily Asian, Midwestern public high school. Lily and her friends joke about the school’s secret GPA weapon (Asian Parents), but they accept Advanced Placement Classes, Symphony Orchestra and Extracurricular Leadership Opportunities as a matter of course. Lily’s friends are being groomed for Big League universities; her friends’ parents hail from China, Korea, India, Japan and Lebanon, and have firmly prepared their children for academic success on either of our coasts.
For Lily, high school has been an intriguing peek into what life would be like with a “real” Asian family. She’s grateful for my low-pressure, Caucasian mom approach (“Have fun at school today, hon!”), but she also holds herself to the pervasive academic expectations of her teachers, and especially, of her Asian cohorts.
This works for me! I rarely need to harp at my daughter to do her homework, or practice the viola, or volunteer for NHS--the stuff kids typically do in order to frontload a college admissions application. The academics and extras are just part of Lily’s social life, thanks to the high school’s high-achieving Asian milieu. I can parentally coast, expecting that my kid’s college prep grades and list of accomplishments will potentially channel her directly into a name brand university Out East, or even more wow-ing--Out West!
I would fail College Prep Parenting if I were to send this child off to school without clueing her into the true secret of her future collegiate success--and the secret has nothing to do with accomplishments or study habits. My parental coasting ends the minute we shine a light on adoption, and examine the effect my child’s past has on her reactions to minor changes and major transitions.
Since preschool, beginnings, endings and separations have triggered overwhelming feelings of loss for my daughter. 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.
A traumatic babyhood may have permanently marked my daughter’s response to change--but recognizing and acknowledging the reasons behind the triggers also equipped Lily with the tools to fight back. Openly talking about adoption loss and grief when Lily was young gave her the basis to create coping mechanisms to counteract the effects of change, separation and new situations. Together, we created middle steps that allowed Lily to ease into new activities and adventures. These three steps are easily personalized for use with families planning for college.Lily parlayed the talk, practice, support middle step coping tools throughout elementary, middle and high school, and is rarely ambushed in the comfort zones she has created at home, with friends and at school. However, going to college hundreds or thousands of miles away from home means an 18 year old is suddenly without familiar comfort zones--and without dependable, daily family support. Heaping change on an unsuspecting college freshman can make for a bumpy first semester. Heaping change (loss!) on an unsuspecting freshman-adoptee can propel a student into a tailspin, or even back to the safety zone of home.
The transitional rituals built into the senior year of high school are in place for a reason. Team banquets, class trips, scholarship ceremonies, honors convocation, graduation and graduation parties are formal middle steps that help both kids and parents process the looming life changes in a socially supportive, systemic manner. However, adoptees may need an extra layer of preparation in order to counter the cultural “growing up and leaving home for good” mentality built around going off to college.
Emotionally preparing our adopted children to make a positive move to school is just as important as mentally prepping for the ACT or SAT. We need to help our soon-to-be college kids create their own middle steps when necessary. We need to teach them how to create new support systems and healthy ways to reach out and connect, both to others and to us. We especially need to let our kids know that we acknowledge their extra challenges with separation--that we have faith in their coping abilities, and that we will continue to be truly available whenever, or wherever, they need us.
By Jean MacLeod
Copyright 2010, MacLeod, All Rights Reserved
NOTE: I figured out how to g-text my 20 year old's cell phone from my computer a couple of years ago -- she took the text and called me a google stalker! (I think this means I'm doing my job? Ahh, techno parents!). CLICK HERE for stalker parent parody.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
I didn't sign up to be a Warrior Mom.
It was awarded to me by default: I showed up to mother a baby.
In the early days of our adoption,
I clanked around in oversize Armor that hung heavy and slow.
It took me awhile to realize that it had been designed for me to grow into...
I'd been outfitted as a Warrior Mom
but didn't understand what I was fighting.
It was with fear and steel
that I dealt with awful knowledge:
I was fighting for the love and affection
of a baby who no longer trusted.
Making a child's world right
is all-consuming and never-ending.
I figured out why I wore Armor: it held me up at the end of the day.
So many invisible dragons to slay!
I battled for my baby
and I battled to be her mother.
I took rejection -- arrows glancing off metal-- and came back for more.
I demanded a place in the life of my daughter
and I learned to share her with her past.
I became a Warrior Mom
and ditched the Armor, but kept the shield.
Not for me, but to protect the child that became mine
through sweat and tears and years of no sleep!
Who knew this Mom could tilt at windmills
angry feelings and powerful ghosts?
I don't cook, can't sew, won't craft
but I learned I could fight
and I don’t give up.
Sometimes it takes a Warrior Mom
to claim a child who has gone past love.
a Mother's Will is Mighty.
It can make love spring from metal
And change Armor to open arms.
by Jean MacLeod
Copyright 2004, MacLeod, All Rights Reserved
Saturday, April 17, 2010
My second daughter, adopted as a baby from China, was a challenge to parent. She came to me with an awareness of her loss, memories of a woman she loved, a sensitive nature and an intense personality. My first three years with this beautiful and intelligent child drained me emotionally and physically. I learned what I had to do in order to help her with her adoption issues, and re-wiring my life, I did what was needed. I don't remember the details...but I remember being tired! And scared and anxious and resigned. We made progress together, but teaching a baby to love you is a lonely business.
My daughter grew to feel safe and secure in tiny little steps. I rejoiced in the smallest of things: her first unsolicited kiss at 15 months old almost stopped my heart! I spent most of my day, every day (and a lot of my nights) meeting her needs and teaching her to trust; it's hard to comprehend the immense amount of energy that can go into adoption-parenting, unless you're familiar with the bittersweet experience of bringing a child back from the edge.
I had a lot to learn about support systems, both for my child and for myself, and if I had to do it again I would be as proactive in finding assistance for myself as I was about finding resources for my daughter. I would help my family and friends understand the work I was doing with my child, and I would ask for their emotional support. I would let them know exactly what I was dealing with, and how important it was for them to put their arms around me and my baby, literally and figuratively. Adopting a child opened a whole new world for me, but I think I was too blurry-eyed to realize that my friends and family weren't sure of how to offer to help, or even what I was trying to accomplish. What had become second nature to me in doing attachment-work with my daughter probably made me look like a rigid and over-protective parent to an outsider, and probably made me appear unapproachable.
I wanted a coach, a mentor, a friend who understood--I needed the village that was supposed to help me raise my child! I didn't get the whole village, but I did find women who reached out to me, who extended sisterhood and who told me I was doing something valuable by mothering. They noticed. I held on to their words of honesty and support, and was enormously touched whenever another mom mentioned how well my little girl was doing. Simple words had a powerful impact:
"You are a great mom," my own mother told me one day, after watching me slog through months of attachment-parenting.
"You are a strong woman," an adoption therapist told me, which gave me the mantra to get through my week.
"We are so thrilled for her!" a group of moms told me with excitement when my toddler was finally able to sit happily on the play parachute at Gymboree. It was a big day when she decided to go for a gentle circle ride with the other babies, instead of clinging to me in fear. The moms' sincere celebration of my baby's big step forward surprised me; that they had noticed what my daughter was working to overcome, and had shared their appreciation of her accomplishment, meant the world to me.
More than time alone or bubble baths or even chocolate, the words and company of other mothers re-energized me to be the kind of parent I wanted to be. Moms who understood what I was trying to achieve, who acknowledged and validated my time with my daughter, were my cheerleaders. They gave me the words to go forward and the words that re-filled my inner reserve. I was, and continue to be, extraordinarily grateful for the women in my life who spoke up and reached out to me, who helped keep my attitude healthy and happy, and Who Noticed when I needed it most.
There is invisible strength in Motherhood, and we need to watch out for one another. Giving a struggling mom a compliment, noticing the incremental progress of her child, or offering your encouragement (or shoulder to cry on) are not-so-random acts of kindness that fuel the thankless job of parenting. Showing up with a flat of flowers and planting them, dropping off a DVD and a bag of chips and dip, or simply sending an admiring email, are motherly gestures we can do for tired moms to help void the feelings of isolation that parenting challenging children can engender. We can do this for each other; we can extend a hand, we can connect, we can all notice a mom who is in need of the essential, human magic of other mothers.
Artwork: Healing Hands by Silvia Hartmann
Copyright 2005 MacLeod, All Rights Reserved
Originally published as Women Who Notice: Speaking Up & Reaching Out; excerpted from Adoption-Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections (2006 EMK Press)
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Or Geisha sex, or Dragon Lady sex, or Miss Saigon sex? Aaaargh! Yes, I was really happy to add ‘perverts’ to the list of difficult topics I’ve been attempting to address with my Asian daughters:
- Overt Racism. The ugly, ignorant, sometimes life or death encounters with fearful, power-hungry, bullying individuals, groups or institutions
- Invisible Racism. Masquerades as ‘Niceness’ and Positive Stereotyping. Also may be used to diminish, or control.
- Asiaphiles with Yellow Fever. Men looking for de-humanizing Asian stereotype for sexual gratification. No real relationship required.
But to complicate matters, tough topics are rarely all black or white…or yellow. How do I explain to my kids that the ‘nice’ white guy who only dates Asian girls and claims he is without a bigoted bone in his body, is likely objectifying a race and projecting his own sexual fetish?
Yeah, I’ll bring that up right after my girls and I discuss who’s old enough for a cell-phone and why Taylor Swift is more talented than Miley Cyrus…
Because I don’t want to go there. How do I explain what I can’t wrap my own mind around? Intellectually, I understand how our history and foreign policy have played into the Asian Mystique, and how Hollywood and The Media have continued to fan the ‘exotic’ yellow flames.
Emotionally, it is a different thing to sit across the table from a 14 year old and try to make dating sense out of Asian wars fought and lost, out of dominance, power and control, and out of the alien fetishist effect this world arena has had on some white males (with their accompanying de-personalized dream of Asian females). The men I have met over the last 14 years as an active member of Families with Children from China are truly the best dads I have ever known. But we don't talk about this--this--niche porn based on race and sick fairy-tales. It is scary and disturbing, especially when applied to the international children we love and protect.
Sheridan Prasso, author of the book, The Asian Mystique, writes:
“There is a patronizing, missionary aspect to America’s foreign policy toward Asia, just as there is an aspect of “saving” the poor Asian girl (prostitute, war victim) from economic circumstances, life of prostitution, or “oppressive” cultural practices which we see in so many of our fictional stories about Asia – and played out in real life…”
Prostitute? War victim? When will ‘Chinese orphan’ become the hot, new, fantasy sexual experience for Asiaphiles?
I don’t want to go there, either…but I’m the parent and I read somewhere that hiding under the bed is not allowed. I adhere to 'best parenting practices' for supporting my daughters’ Transracial Adoptee identity formation, and I realize how important it is for my daughters to learn from the strength and collective primary experience of other Asian women.
But, still, I’m the Mom. What I’ve discovered as an adoptive parent is that there is NO EASY WAY through a conversation with my children on adoption, racism or sex. The adoption topic was tough when my teen was in preschool; however, believe me, Yellow Fever trumps all...
I may feel socially awkward bringing up painfully personal subjects with my tween and teen, but I’ve learned my occasional gracelessness simply doesn’t matter. What matters deeply and profoundly is…honesty. Truthfulness is our adoption-parenting formula for success! With it, we can wade through embarrassing conversations, empower our teens, and hex the Date*liners looking for ‘yellow sex’ with our Asian daughters. It is also really good to know that speaking honestly precludes making a complete idiot of yourself (I fall back on this parenting truism a lot).
Movies, particularly older films, offer up marvelous conversation starters on racial stereotyping and discrimination in general. Catch Flower Drum Song, The Good Earth, Auntie Mame, Breakfast at Tiffany's or The World of Suzie Wong on classic movie channels (or Netflix), and talk about the impact of the stereotypical characters, or the situational racism, or what has changed...and what hasn't. Sometimes communication with our kids is a process, accomplished in steps; sometimes we just need to find the words to use; sometimes we need help in recognizing the other’s truth.
‘SWM, 64, Looking for Asian Woman’: First, you get deal with me, AWP [Angry White Parent]. I have a few things I’d like to honestly discuss…
This post is part of my Transracial Parenting Savvy! series
with Psychologist Doris Landry
Thursday, February 11, 2010
My daughters, when they were younger, were willing participants in Families with Children from China events. We looked forward to celebrating their Chinese birth culture with FCC friends, and eagerly attended the fun, child-friendly festivities planned by FCC parents. For Chinese New Year my daughters dressed in colorful silk Qi Pao dresses and pearl necklaces purchased in Guangzhou. I wore a matching silk blouse (cheongsam dresses simply refused to go past my obviously western-sized hips) and my own set of pearls. We had a wonderful time at our FCC parties, making Chinese lantern crafts, learning a little Mandarin, and eating Chinese food.
Did attending an adoption support group that emphasized Chinese birth culture make my family culturally competent? Of course not! But through FCC, my daughters met other adopted children with similar life circumstances, and I became friends with other adoptive parents. My children and I slowly developed a support system within our FCC group. The girls relished the comfort of being the same as the other kid attendees: no one questioned their family connection, origin or Asian-ness. I enjoyed (needed…required!) the ongoing parent-to-parent rapport. Trans-racial, international adoption-parenting can be a deeply broadening or a darkly isolating experience. FCC-type organizations offer adopted children and their adoptive parents an important feeling of belonging, and a powerful camaraderie based on life experience and shared insight. Sometimes dismissed as ‘culture-lite’, these groups are invaluable in helping families create community-- and it is the invisible culture of *adoption* that support groups validate, celebrate and strengthen. Adoption IS part of our children’s birth culture…
My daughters, now 17, 12 and 8, are reaching past early childhood FCC parties and playgroups, and exploring what growing up Asian really means within our family and our community. My oldest daughter was born to me, and it has been interesting to see the effect her China-born sisters have had over her choice of high school friends, and on her college decision. She has a world-view, and an easy lifetime acceptance of cultural and racial diversity.
Her two younger sisters are moving toward creating their own diverse, cultural comfort zone among their seventh grade and third grade peers. Both girls joined a Chinese folk-dance troupe last year at my urging, and I was secretly amazed at how little I had to push to get them to participate! It wasn’t really about the dance…I think my 12 year old especially enjoyed working with the instructor (a beautiful Chinese woman from Beijing), and she liked the novel experience of being surrounded by non-adoptive Asian-American families. She observed the Chinese family interactions and the teacher’s traditional Chinese mode of instruction, and we talked about what it might have been like for my daughter to grow up with her first family in mainland China.
My 12 year old also attended the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network (KAAN) conference with me last summer in Boston, where she had the opportunity to listen and talk to Korean and Chinese young adult adoptees. These intelligent, accomplished young women made an impact on my middle-schooler—more than I realized at the time. My daughter’s occasional comments about the conference are a reminder to me that my Asian-American girls need mentors and role-models outside myself…that part two of my job as a trans-racial adoptive parent involves taking the initiative and reaching out to friendships among the Asian, Middle-Eastern and African-American families in my own community. Race IS part of our children’s birth culture…
I’ve discovered that celebrating our children’s birth culture isn’t just about immersion into another country’s past and present. It is relational, and based on the evolving needs of our children it can mean reaching out to other adoptees, mentors, heritage camp counselors, instructors and new friends. Celebrating our children’s birth culture encompasses difficult day-to-day discussions on race, and the acknowledgment of the losses and loving benefits inherent in becoming an adoptive family. And at the heart of it all, is the family foundation and emotional network that we parents strive to provide.
In China, the New Year’s celebration focuses on relatives, and respect is paid to the spirits of a family’s ancestors:
“The presence of the ancestors is acknowledged on New Year's Eve with a dinner arranged for them at the family banquet table. The spirits of the ancestors, together with the living, celebrate the onset of the New Year as one great community. The communal feast called "surrounding the stove" or weilu. It symbolizes family unity and honors the past and present generations.” (University of Victoria, BC, Canada)
My daughters have grown out of their silk Qi Pao dresses, and are growing into multifaceted tweens and teens. But at Chinese New Year I still celebrate our “family unity” and the fact that these three children are in my life. I thank the mixed hotpot of Chinese and Scandinavian ancestral spirits that somehow, with deep benevolence and wicked humor, reached out beyond race and place, beyond all of our different birth cultures, and brought my children and me together…
Happy New Year!
Copyright 2012, MacLeod, All Rights Reserved
Friday, January 15, 2010
“What’s that thing on the wall called?” my 14 year old from China asked, pointing at a heavily embroidered panel of antique ceremonial cloth hanging in our living room.
“It’s a Kalaga,” I answered. “It’s from Thailand”
“It’s not Chinese?” Lily said in mild surprise.
“Nope. Not Chinese,” I responded, looking around our living room. “And neither is the Thai temple fragment, or the Japanese origami figures, or the bowl I found in Seoul.”
Some of the items had been collected during my years as an international flight attendant; some, like the Kalaga, were acquired during young adulthood. Purchased right out of college, the Kalaga had been bizarrely expensive and unwieldy to hang; I wonder now what had stirred my need for its presence and rich tradition.
“So”, said Lily, looking around the room at our artifacts, as if seeing them for the first time. “You bought all of this stuff…before you were Asian?”
I nodded, catching her eye and pondering her perspective.
“Yes. Before I was Asian. Before you and your sister got here.”
Suddenly, I was aware that my own, familiar perspective was out-of-synch with my daughter’s world-experience. Clearly, Lily understood the impact she and her younger sister had had on my life-path…but I , just as clearly, was a little out of touch with the POV of an edgy Asian girl growing up fast with a white bread mom.
We gazed at each other in a moment of clarity and mutual recognition. Our assumptions had met, and we silently acknowledged the curious fact that both of us had led separate lives on separate continents before becoming a family. Like every parent, I occasionally wonder what my life would be like today if I hadn’t discovered its meaning in my children. Now, my teenager has begun to connect me, our disparate pasts, what brought us together and the effects on us all. We were teen-talking adoption without ‘going there’, and I was given a glimpse into the broadening perspective of a daughter connecting her own dots. Lily wasn’t being sarcastic. She acknowledged our differences and reaffirmed our pact with her pointed phrase, and I understood what she meant. Before both of our lives intersected, before we took on this international experiment, before we knew how much we could love, before we were brave enough to try, before…I was Asian.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
A Perfect Puzzle Give-Away...
A book for adopted tweens, plus a NEW book for adopted teens--both addressing honest emotion and the need to find a fit. Both books are FREE to one lucky person...contest begins today and runs through Jan. 30th. Winner will be announced on JANUARY 31st!
Simple Give-Away Rules
1) Sign up to follow Jean MacLeod's Adoption Toolbox BLOG at
and / or
2) Join Jean MacLeod's new Adoption Toolbox FACEBOOK page by clicking on the FACEBOOK Badge at: http://adoptiontoolbox.
***Be sure to click the green 'Sign Up" box once on Facebook
--If you join BOTH the blog and the Facebook page, you will have TWO chances to win the books (shipping is free).
--Current blog followers WILL be automatically included in the drawing, but are encouraged to join the new Adoption Toolbox Facebook page to improve give-away chances.
AT HOME IN THIS WORLD (by Jean MacLeod) is "the honest, lyrical reflection of a pre-adolescent girl on what she knows of her adoption from China, and the strength she gains from her acceptance of her bittersweet experience. The book addresses the underlying feelings and emotions that color the world of the international adoptee; it also enables pre-teen readers to put their early lives into perspective, while emphasizing the supportive love that encircles them within their own families":
"I am nine years old and someone a lot like you. Part of my life has been like a puzzle needing pieces, but I am understanding more about myself and my life everyday. This is my story..."
PIECES OF ME, WHO DO I WANT TO BE? (edited by Robert L. Ballard) is a NEW collection of "stories, poems, art, music, quotes, activities and provocative questions for the young adopted person who wants to figure out his or her story. It is a series of experiences, expressions, feelings, hurts, hopes, dreams, and struggles from a wide range of individuals. Some will make you laugh, some will make you cry, some will make you happy, some will make you feel less alone, some will offer advice, and some will just share. Organized around the idea of putting a puzzle together, there are five major sections, all offering hope, encouragement and empowerment":
1. Gathering the Pieces
2. Stolen Pieces
3. Fitting the Pieces
4. Sharing the Pieces
5. Where do These Pieces Go?
So...What's NOT puzzling?
Free books for your kids, online connection and great parent-to-parent resources...perfect!
iWrite: Tween and Teens Write about Life and Adoption
A Walk in JURASSIC PARK
Middle Aged Moms & Family Fun