The elephant in the room, at least for me regarding international adoption, finally needs to be discussed. I’ve avoided really exploring this issue for almost my entire life, because I felt to really do so would be disrespectful to my parents and potentially cause me to go down paths that are really best left unexplored. But I’ve attempted to write about this and changed my mind so many times that I think I can’t avoid it any longer.
The elephant is why. This is a terrible sentence. Why is the elephant for almost all issues, isn’t it? So far this pesky pachyderm looks like every other damn elephant that occupies a room. So let me provide some clarity as to what I mean. My why has two layers. One is fairly easy to identify because my parents told me. The real why hasn’t ever been discussed with my folks, and I think I prefer it that way, because there is always room for tender mercies in this world.
The first and easy why is this: Why did I get adopted? The quick backstory is that my parents adopted my older sister from Korea in 1975. My parents had always wanted kids but if you’ve ever seen my mom get hit by a falling pinecone, you’ll quickly realize that natural childbirth, even with an epidural, might be a really, really bad idea for her. I kid about this, but much later on in life, when I went through the experience of miscarriages, she shared that she was not unfamiliar with this event, and I never pried about her situation or situations, but I think that probably played a big part in why they didn’t have biological children.
My sister grew up an only child for quite some time. I suppose the natural craving for companionship started to arise and she expressed the desire to have a sibling, ideally a sister. So my parents contacted their dealer and put out the feelers on another Korean girl. Through the process, they discovered that they weren’t getting any warm and fuzzies from any of the girls in the monthly catalogs. In the meantime, my sister was getting very bad at playing hide and go seek by herself and she started to apply some serious pressure about the whole acquiring a sister process. In 1980, they came across two brothers that the agency didn’t want to separate (primarily because I would have absolutely lost my shit if I was separated from my brother, and all the folks in the orphanage knew that). I frequently joke around that the agency was offering a clearance sale and it was a BOGO deal that was too good to pass up, but somehow my parents made the decision to adopt two boys instead of a girl to satisfy my sister’s wishes. In a lot of ways, this is very representative of how my parents approached a lot of requests to them. For example, I can remember asking my parents to join little league, and they decided that I should learn basket weaving and perform yard maintenance instead. They will always come up with a solution, but it probably won't be exactly what you wished for. So, in May of 1980, my sister suddenly found herself with two brothers. Much to her dismay, neither of us really wanted to play with Barbie dolls or talk to her about which member of Duran Duran was cuter. Although if pressed for an answer, I would have to answer John Taylor. What can I say, he has dreamy eyes.
So that answers the first layered why. My brother and I were procured because my sister wanted someone to play with. The deeper why is (no joke, I literally have been staring at the screen for a while, because my fingers can’t type out what I want to ask and now I’m just lamely stalling by vicariously sharing my inner turmoil about even articulating this in actual real words).
The second and deeper why is this: Did my parents adopt for selfish reasons or to give two children a better life? The answer that will come from their mouths would be the latter. We always want to associate noble intentions with most of our actions, I think. But I don’t believe that is the true answer. And I don’t know if the motivations of my parents are any different from the tens of thousands of other parents out there that chose the path of international adoption. Every marketing appeal from agencies like Holt, Dillon, Save the Children, Korean Kid Karnival, and ½ Priced Kids speaks to the altruistic mission of rescuing third world kids and giving them the American dream.
We have three rescue dogs. This is related to this discussion, I promise. The third dog, Kiri, we say sort of rescued us. The reason why we say that is that we were not looking for another dog. We had our hands full with Pango and Ranga. Pango was rescued in Chicago because I told the Sane One that having a dog would inspire me to come home and spend time with my family instead of working late and spending one-on-ones with my employees every single evening after work. Ranga was adopted because he was an emergency foster situation after he was found thrown out in a Whataburger dumpster. It was New Year’s Eve and they needed to find anyone willing to foster him until he could get into a shelter. We were considering getting another dog because the neighbours had casually mentioned to us that Pango would whine all day while we were at work.
Kiri apparently was roaming our neighbourhood for a couple of days and we were walking Pango and Ranga when this dog came trotting up and greeted our dogs. After the formal ass sniffing was done, she let us examine her, and of course, no collar or tags. When we went to go back to our house, this abandoned dog was following a couple of feet behind us. We got to our driveway and the Sane One and I had a decision to make. Now, it was a hot summer day in East Texas, which means you could fry an egg on the pavement. She looked thin, thirsty, and hungry. And she stank to high heaven. We just couldn’t leave her out there. So we opened the door, and she ran straight into the living room, and plopped herself down on the sofa. After no one responded to the Found Dog postings, we had a choice: either take her to the shelter, or Pango and Ranga were getting a very cute little sister. You guys all know how that ended.
We really didn’t want another dog. We have a third dog because I felt that her life would be better with us and I didn't want her to spend another day of uncertainty. Bringing this back to adoptive parents’ decisions, how many of them came over to Korea, met us personally, discovered a bond or connection so deep that they felt they had to adopt that child and raise them in the US? Very, very few of them did that. Was the choice to adopt a child closer to the situation where we rescued Pango or was it more similar to how we found Kiri? Both outcomes have had wonderful results, but the motivation is extremely different between the two.
This is not a criticism or lambasting of the international adoption organizations. This is not an examination of the real motivation of my parents. This is just one person’s journey to see what’s under stones long left dormant. I guess I just hope that, in the future, any children who get adopted have a Kiri story instead of a Pango story. One felt transactional in a way, and one felt inspirational. Inspirational is far cooler. And it also doesn’t have a receipt.