My Favorite Things of 2015

Dear The Adopted Life readers,

As 2015 comes to a close, I’d like to thank you for being so loyal. I’ve been on quite the incredible ride since the premiere of the documentary. I’m fortunate to have met so many of you who share my belief in critical thinking and reaching outside of our comfort zones as one small way we can improve lives in our society.  As I reflect on such a momentous year in my personal life, I want to share some of my favorite moments that happened in the world around me. These are a few of my favorite things:

Favorite Article: How To Be An Interrupter wins this award. Pegged as “The White Person’s Guide To Activism” this article is one of my top referenced articles when I teach workshops and trainings to white folks who desire to be considered an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement and want to be on the right side of history in our “post-racial” world. Yes, the author of this piece, Aaryn Belfer may be a personal friend, and I might be in love with her daughter, her San Diego home, her husband’s wit and their dog, but if you think that her winning this award is a conflict of interest, then present your argument after digesting that it was shared on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest a few thousand times.

Favorite display of human intelligence: In my full-time professional work, I often preach Einstein’s words about equality vs. equity. I’m glad to know I’ll have a new example to add to my soapbox in James at Jim The Trim Barbershop. His actions rivals Einstein’s brilliance, as he individually accommodates his clients to reach the same outcome: a fly haircut. Now that’s equity!

Favorite speech:  Viola Davis accepting her Emmy award and her powerful statement that the reason for the lack of black talent is not that we aren’t talented, but rather “you can’t win awards for roles that aren’t there.”

Although not technically a speech, Cecile’s Richards (Planned Parenthood) shutting down representative, Jason Chaffetz is a runner-up.

Favorite interview: Alright, I’ve gotta shamelessly self-promote, here. One of my favorite interviews was speaking with a bright 10 year old girl after she saw Ava Duvernay’s movie; Selma. I was also excited (Note: “excited” is an understatement – she is my girl crush) to have been contacted by Cipriana Quann, who asked to feature the video on Urban Bush Babes website.

Favorite Instagrammer: The beauties behind FosterMoms exemplify much of what I teach and stress in my adoption advocacy work. They share honestly and frequently, while keeping their little ones’ lives private. I know them as “Tiny” and “Mr. Toddler.” They’ve kept the boys’ faces off of social media while educating on the power, struggle, love and tiring life of being LGBTQ foster parents.

Favorite Twitter feed: In 140-character gems, my Twitter feed can be inspiring, informative, and helps change the way I look at the world. @Deray is my source for on the ground truths of Ferguson, Charleston, Baltimore and other cases of police using excessive force. The 30 year old’s reflections after meeting with Hilary Clinton was gracious while putting pressure on our Democratic front-runner. He is changing the world by demanding police officer accountability, and doing all of this while being black and gay. No easy feat.

Favorite display of public honesty: Monica Lewinsky’s TEDTalk entitled “The Price Of Shame,” exemplifies one of my professional missions. I strongly advocate for those marginalized within our society to learn how to own their own story and share it in a way that feels most true to them. This is not easy for folks who have been subjected to vitriol, hatred, abuse or other damaging interactions to their self-esteem. Monica Lewinsky endured years of public abuse, beautifully took back the reigns of her narrative by boldly sharing the story we all know too well in her own words. I’m thankful the folks in that room created such a safe space for her.

The Serena Williams press conference after she beat her sister Venus is runner up in this category.

Favorite proud wife moment: Watching Bryan‘s creative process as he conceptualized, produced and edited this tear-jerker of a music video. I loved his purposeful choice to focus the story on showcasing powerful women in the minority black ballerina, single motherhood, adoptive parenting.

Favorite viral video:  Passing time in the airport can be exasperating. Between the plethora of germs, the searching my afro for weapons, eavesdropping on conversations, witnessing tearful hugs and kisses it can be enough to swear off airports for life. I will continue to travel in 2016, and would be impossibly happy to get the great fortune to witness a magical scene like this.

RELATED: I’ve spent far fewer hours on the New York subway, but still, why couldn’t this have happened?

Favorite binge-watch: The Newsroom. This show made me think about the ways media portrays “news.” I’m too embarrassed to admit the number of consecutive hours spent on the couch. Next up? Season 4 of House Of Cards.

Favorite moment of justice: Watching Daniel Holtzclaw bawl like the weak little child that he is, and hearing some of the survivors speak out and having the whole world hear them and believe them.

“Amidst the suffering and mourning for Black lives lost and brutalized across the nation, we can finally celebrate having “won” one. At last, we can sit back and revel in our oppressor’s suffering.” -For Harriet

Favorite Fans: YOU! Thank you for your belief that adoptees should have a place at the table when discussing issues related to adoption. It’s been an honor to build a community of thinkers who show a deep respect for humanity, engage in challenging dialogue with a willingness to be vulnerable, and modeling how to respectfully disagree with someone on the internet. I am greatly looking forward to hearing the voices of our adopted youth through The Adopted Life series in 2016 – thanks again for helping to make this a reality.

Sincerely,

cropped-angela_logo_web2.jpg

 

 

 

 

P.S. Did I miss something? Let me know!

Guest Post: A Search for Family in Haiti Raises Questions about Adoption: The Whole Story

I have chosen to include this guest post in an attempt to communicate my desire to fully support Mariette.  The incident she describes underscores my commitment to empowering adoptees to tell their story in the way that feels most true to them.

The piece that Mariette is referencing throughout her post can be found HERE.

~Angela

Mariette

A Search for Family in Haiti Raises Questions about Adoption: The Whole Story

By Mariette Williams

On Friday, November 27th, I woke up to a barrage of twitter notifications. I had been waiting for a few days for Ben Fox, the Associated Press journalist, to post the story of my reunion with my family in Haiti. He had said it would be posted during the Thanksgiving weekend. When I clicked on the link to read the story for the first time, I was stunned.

I retweeted the story a few times, but I wasn’t sure how to explain in 140 characters that I wasn’t comfortable with the story, that it had missed the mark. On Friday afternoon, Ben texted me and asked if I was okay. I said I thought 85% of the article was good, but there were some situations that were inaccurate. I didn’t go into too much detail, and I decided to try and put it out of my mind. But it kept bothering me. I didn’t sleep well on Friday or Saturday night. I had to explain myself before I could let it go. On Sunday afternoon, I sat down and wrote Ben this email:

Hi Ben,

I’ve been thinking about this story all weekend, and I can’t let it go until I address some things that you wrote. Like I texted you on Saturday, I think 85% of the story is good and accurate. But there are some things that are bothering me, and I’ll address them below.

“Four days later, Sandra gave her side in a letter to Mariette. Sandra noted that her adopted daughter could have ended up with some other family, or might not have survived in Haiti at all. She said she had always prayed Mariette would return to her country to meet her family. “I feel we have all been victims of deception, but I also believe God is ultimately in charge,” she wrote. For almost two months afterward, Mariette didn’t speak to Sandra. She was furious.”

I actually asked you not to write about this letter. I asked my mom for space while I was figuring things out. I was not “furious.” Hurt? Yes. Confused? Yes. Shocked to find out my mother in Haiti had not consented? Yes. This was a private, personal letter, and I am surprised that you used it.

“She decided to go to Haiti to celebrate her mother’s 70th birthday. Sandra gave her a necklace and earrings as gifts for Colas. Mariette seethed. She left them behind.”

I showed you the card and the necklace. I explained to you that I would not bring them because I didn’t think it was an appropriate gift. The card said “Thank you for sharing your daughter with us.” Given the circumstances, I didn’t think that was the right message. Should I have brought the earrings? Maybe. If you wanted to include this, you should have given the context of the card. “Seething” is an inaccurate description.

Up to this point, I think the story is okay. When we get to Haiti, everything kind of falls apart.

“She was surprised, and a little annoyed, that her Haitian relatives weren’t at the airport.”

Nope, not true. I had arranged to have a driver from the guesthouse pick me up. My family was supposed to meet me at the guesthouse. You saw yourself that we landed at the airport and there was a gentleman holding a sign with my name on it. I rolled my bags into his van, and you followed us to the guesthouse in your own vehicle.

“Over the coming days, Mariette could get little more from her mother. She cursed herself for not learning Creole.”

I said my biggest regret was not learning Creole. I said that if I could change one thing, it would have been to learn more Creole. I did not curse myself.

“She had planned to spend the night at the house. Instead, she traveled two more hours to the one hotel in Pestel.”

Again, not true. It was never the plan for us, or me to stay at my mother’s house. You had brought it up the day before that you would like to travel to Deron. I agreed that it would be good to see the house where my mother lived. When we arrived, we spent a few hours there talking and taking pictures. As we were getting ready to leave, you asked me, “Are you going to stay here tonight?’ And I looked at you like you were crazy and I said, “No, I’m coming with you guys.” I had no cell phone reception and no way to getting in contact with you. It was never my plan to stay there.

“The next day, Junette said she would like to either move their mother to the capital or fix up her home, where two or three of her children and their families stay at any given time. The implication was clear: Mariette would pay.”

When was this? Junette met us back at the guesthouse after that long and crazy ride back to Delmas. We ate cake, you took some pictures, and then you went back to the AP house. When was this conversation?

“Her brothers walked through the home with two barefoot contractors. Mariette ended up with a rough estimate of around $5,000 — far more than she could afford.”

We both know that the $5,000 number was inflated, and it is not “far more than what I can afford.” I was sitting in front of my mother’s house with Evens, who was helping me translate. I asked my mother how I could help her. She told me I could help her with the house. At that point, my brothers called the neighbors to get an estimate for the work that could be done. I brought it up, and I am more than happy to help my mother with her home.

“Her family saw her as the rich American relative. Her youngest sister and a niece hinted that they could go to nursing school, if they could only come up with the tuition. Colas wanted to prepare a meal, but didn’t have money to buy a chicken. Mariette paid.”

As for my younger sister and niece, they had been studying for the nursing exam, something that is very difficult to pass. On our first day, we sat around the table and they told me that they had passed the exam. Great. My mother praised God, and said that I was like “good luck” for them. They did not ask me to pay for their schooling.

Most importantly, my mother was not prepared to have me and a camera crew and a reporter show up to her home. She explained through a translator that she was embarrassed that she didn’t have anything to serve us. She was also embarrassed to have a camera crew in her home, taking pictures. It was very intrusive, and she never complained. She gracefully made us coffee and brought out chairs so we could sit around her yard. Before she arrived, the plan was for us to meet up in Delmas. Also, before I arrived in Haiti, she had told me that she didn’t want to give any interviews or to appear on camera. But any request we made, she complied. You asked her questions, took her picture, and she gave an on camera interview. I think she did more than her part. I gladly gave her $5 to buy dinner.

What about that interview I gave in front of my mother’s house? I said that I was grateful for my adoption, that everything I have I am thankful for. Why not include that? Or the conversations we had that I had a great childhood, growing up on a farm in British Columbia? Being able to attend a private school? If you weren’t pressed for length, why not include that?

Both my mom (Sandra) and I were disappointed in the tone of this article.  It didn’t feel like good journalism. You filled in the blanks in places, presenting a story that wasn’t accurate. I know you were trying to go for a narrative, but it didn’t work.  We had such an opportunity to tell a great story. Adoption is so complex, so beautiful and at the same time so heartbreaking, and you missed that. Although adoption gave me so much, it was still very important for me to know where I came from. I waited for four months for this story to come out.  Not for any personal gain, but to share my story and give hope to other adoptees still searching for their families. I am thankful for your friendship and your help navigating while we were in Haiti. I could not have done this trip alone. I don’t regret going or the new friendships I have with Chery or Evens. I am only sorry that my Haitian family was portrayed the way they were, and that you left out much of my positive comments about my adoption.

I wish you nothing but the best going forward,

Mariette

Ben and I have since talked and he has apologized, but the story cannot be undone. I still feel it necessary to explain my side of the story, to use my small platform to make things right.

I know that very few people who read the first story will read this, but I am at peace knowing that I shared my side. In all of this, I believe even more strongly than before in owning and sharing our own stories, which would not be possible without personal blogs, podcasts, and social media. It’s not just important to tell a good story, we are responsible to each other to tell the whole story.

My Interview With “Foster Moms”

Last week, I was interviewed by Foster Moms. Check out the full interview here.

Here is a snippet:

FOSTERMOMS: How might you respond to someone who says they don’t know if they could ever foster infants or babies because they would grow too attached?

ANGELA TUCKER: I immediately think of my favorite poem “On Children” by Khalil Gibran as I truly feel that raising children should never be about ownership. We raise children to become happy, healthy and productive members of society. Some of the lyrics are:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls. (I especially love this line!)

The Adopted Life Episodes – COMING SOON

Kickstarter

I am very excited to launch The Adopted Life Episodes campaign!

I plan to host a series where I speak one-on-one with transracially adopted youth posing developmentally appropriate questions in a conversational and journalistic approach. Each episode will feature between 10 transracially adopted youth and will be edited to an estimated run-time of ten to fifteen minutes. My husband, filmmaker Bryan Tucker, will film each episode and we will co-edit them together. I am purposefully launching this campaign during National Adoption Month, in an effort to provide a platform to the lesser heard voices; adoptees and foster youth. Head on over to Kickstarter to learn more about this venture.

kickstarter-button

Adoptee Speakers; Fatigue is an Occupational Hazard. Impertinence Is Not.

In my public speeches, I often incorporate a photocopy of a memo written by the adoption agency to my parents, where the agency offered me at a discounted and negotiable rate since I am black and had/have special needs (AKA, a “failure to thrive” in adoption lingo). I share this sensitive information for the purpose of educating on the topic of the fragility of adoptees and the possible origins of a fragile sense of worth.  Inevitably, this tangible document asserting my monetary worth has crept into my subconscious, making it difficult to gauge my conceptual self worth.   Psychological studies, or a simple look at the correlation between American greed and US depression rates tell us that a genuine positive self-esteem cannot be obtained by outside goods or materialism, but self esteem can be damaged by external forces. I know this to be true by experience. Let me explain.

I recently fulfilled my contractual obligation to speak at a culture camp specifically for transracial adoptive families. Over two days, I gave the keynote speech, led my Transracial Adoption 101 workshop, and joined another well renown speaker on the topic of birthparent relationships. In a nutshell, I bled emotionally on stage, offering a behind the scenes, deeper look at Closure, sharing many truths typically reserved for a behind closed doors, confidential session in a therapists office. I enter in to these spaces willingly and excitedly as it is my desire to educate others for the sake of the spurning powerful and necessary conversations. My emotional weight lifting and vulnerability resulted in countless thanks from the participants for helping to expand their worldview. The weekend was fatiguing, but overall, it felt to be a wild success, a victory in the name of adoption education!  Well, not quite…

On the final day, I met with the director to settle up before heading back to the airport. To my surprise, I was not met with my payment, but rather a blank check that she dangled like a candy bribe in front of a misbehaving child and her cutting words; “I haven’t made your check out yet, because you weren’t available enough to the families during downtime. The families wanted more from you. I’d like to know what you think you’re worth?” I felt immediately triggered for obvious reasons. Her words have proven to aid in the external demotion of my self worth.

There seems to be an expectation for us adoptees to either shell out our private, potentially traumatic life story whenever anyone asks, or to speak for free as a sort of restitution for having been given a “better life.” In my case, there was an unknown and thus unmet expectation for me to be 100% available to all of the guests, foregoing sleep, rest or simple rejuvenation after a challenging educational session and a red-eye cross country flight.

Adoptee speakers – I understand the wearying drain of constantly needing to stave off  feelings of inferiority, or to spend time (as I have) justifying the plausibility of their claims, but please be careful with this. Intentionally placing ourselves in triggering environments for the sake of adoption reform shan’t lead to a days of internal conversations and external retreat from the world. This is counter-productive. Together, we can demand that our vulnerable offerings are not only met with the agreed upon payment, but also kindness and an upstanding integrity. If this is not the case, reach out to your community for support. Adoptees learned at an early age that society views us as commodities, and that in some senses we were bought. Adoptee speakers, let’s #FliptheScript and demand it be known that we are commodities no more.

 

Sometimes Saying “My Birthmom Didn’t Want Me” Is an Adoptee’s Coping Mechanism

“When you’re adopted, at some level, your story is defined by a person who did not want you. Not wanting you may have been defined by wanting the best for you — in fact, most of the time it is.”

Genes Aren’t Destiny, & Other Things I’ve Learned From Being Adopted by Todd VanDerWerff

20130412-221102.jpg

Sometimes when I hear adoptees make a statement such as the one quoted above, it is a statement of protection. I know, firsthand how choosing to reunite or seek out your roots is quite a scary endeavor. Stating “she must not have wanted me,” is a great way to help your brain to make sense of such a formative abandonment and thus allows us adoptees an easier excuse when making a choice not to face the unknowns a reunion may bring. If this is your tactic, it’s good to know where the impetus lies. This statement often is not a truth coming directly from your birthparents mouth, but rather it’s a coping mechanism to help stave off scary and hard feelings. That is an understandable strategy.

When I was denied by my birthmother the first time I laid eyes on her, it did feel a bit like a second rejection, but this does not prove that she did want me. I know that there are far too many pieces to her story and the circumstances surrounding my birth  to boil it down to a statement like “she did not want me.” Having been in reunion now for a few years, I know that were I to continue to believe this, not only would I be lying to myself, but also it’d be a callous disrespect to my birthmom.

It is with such jubilation that I now know my birthmother, and that I’ve gotten the chance to hear her directly tell me that I was wanted! Being placed for adoption had absolutely nothing to do with her personal desires or want, but rather my placement in to foster care and ultimately being adopted, was the result of a host of other personal issues and systemic failures.

Give this article a read. The author is an adoptee, and has reunited with his birthparents. This blog post is not a reflection upon his life, as I’ve never met him in person. These are just my reflections on a sentiment I hear adoptees use quite often. I’m thankful to see this article in Vox as it is increasingly important to hear the point of view of courageous adoptees, whether we agree or disagree with what has been written.

Canadian Adoption Magazine Seeks to #FlipTheScript

FullSizeRender 2

A couple months after National Adoption Month (November 2014)I received an email from the editor of Adoptive Families Association of British Columbia. The editor explained how impactful the #FlipTheScript campaign was to their staff. After viewing the video, and reading tweets from adoptees they made a deliberate choice to incorporate more adoptee voices in their magazine.  The Spring edition of their magazine is now out, and it features the inaugural Adoptee Voice column in which I wrote a piece entitled “It’s Not About Gratitude.”

In the article I share a letter that I wrote to Deborah in my teens (years before I met her.) The letter is peppy, positive, forgiving – a charmer. As I re-read the letter in my adulthood I can see the letter for what it actually was.  Here’s a snippet of (the unedited version) my honest reflections from my column in Focus on Adoption Magazine;

Although this letter contains my heartfelt (teenage) truths there was quite a bit that was omitted. In hindsight I am aware that this letter was essentially an advertisement to my birth mother, carefully written, purposefully short in length and crafted with strategic emphasis on societally accepted themes.  I could’ve written this letter without the repressed emotions, but I held a realistic fear that a more honest letter may have sounded angry and thus deterred a response. If I hadn’t been trying so hard to write a letter that would please this woman for whom I’d felt a strong connection, I might have written about the sadness I still feel in knowing that there weren’t any hospital flower deliveries, pointlessly gendered pink balloons or any other trinkets that are so often a part of the celebration of new life.

Preview my full article here:

Sharing Your Story Alleviates Stereotypes

In watching Chimamanda Adichie eloquently speak of The Danger of a Single Story, I couldn’t help but to reflect upon my own experience with Closure. Over the past year I have felt a nagging conviction that although Closure is affecting people positively and in droves (awesome!), I often find myself editing my words during the Q&A portion after screenings of the film. I am constantly searching for the words that help to reinforce the fact that my story is just one of many unique, valuable and beautifully tragic adoption stories. I’m often asked questions such as “…has being in reunion with your birth family brought peace and happiness or more struggle and confusion?” followed by “…would you suggest all adoptees to search?”  I work really hard to consistently only answer from my experience only, hopefully helping folks to understand that my answer and this film shows only one story. That my answers are not every adoptees’ answers, and that my style of searching, the age I chose to start searching etc., was simply one approach. Chimamanda’s TED Talk beautifully explains the danger of attributing one single story to an entire subpopulation.

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story

I found this TEDTalk to be a remarkably great reminder that although we learn a great deal by watching documentaries, reading memoirs, autobiographies and listening to keynote speeches etc., we shalt not think to apply these details to all who happen to fall within the same category. The danger in this is that by attributing my answer to all other adoptees you’re branding all other adoptees trans-racial adoptees as intensely curious, psychologically minded, introverted, basketball playing, pianists who are determined to respectfully find their birth families at all costs. Or that we read Night (Elie Wiesel), and that we then think of all holocaust survivors as people with a resolve to understand the inhumanity that man is capable of, or that we read The Reason I Jump, and attribute Higashida’s thoughts and words to all people with autism. There is a danger in hearing and interacting with a single story and that is the risk of attributing one’s story to everyone else within that category.

I am moved by the amount of adoptees I’ve met while since Closure debuted. So many of these adoptees stated that they felt ready and interested in sharing their own story.  Please do join me on this liberating (and scary) adventure in vulnerability.

Every Separation Is A Link

I recently consulted via Skype with a fellow adult adoptee who had recently gained her birth mother’s contact information and was seeking my advice in deciding upon a method of contact that may feel the least intrusive to her birth mom.

Before our scheduled consult, I re-read a bit of Simone Weil’s work, and felt guided by her quote:

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.

Prior to contacting me this adoptee had already surveyed her husband, friends and other adoptees, in an effort to gauge and quantify the risks of choosing snail mail vs email, vs a phone call etc. to make this first contact.  She was working so hard in contemplating how she could tactfully and respectfully gain this precious (albeit basic and foundational) information.  She was working so hard trying to appease everyone else, and trying to preemptively ensure that her birthmother would feel comfortable in an inherently uncomfortable position.  During the course of our conversation, she coyly asked: “How do I explain how it is that I found her phone number?  I had to snoop (search angels, confidential intermediaries, agency contacts etc.) to find it!” My response:

Of course you had to sleuth! How else does an adoptee in a closed adoption gain this information?

It is only through the unfortunate separation of this adoptee and her birth family that she and I were able to be linked together. We shared a life-giving conversation that both honored others while she learned the value of honoring herself in weighing her personal thoughts of best practice in this unchartered territory. As Simone Weil states; “Compassion directed toward oneself is true humility.”

Adoptees have a unique understanding of the fact that our rights are largely subject to varying circumstances, however we cannot deny the incredible pull we feel in needing to know our roots. There is no perfect way for even the most sycophant of adoptees to gain information that should’ve been made available years ago.