For a Different Kind of Family, We Are Really Just the Same

November 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Adoptive Families, Family

By: Stacy Clark

I am a 44-year-old mother of two daughters. One daughter shares my genes, reflects my blue eyes and wheat-colored hair (though I pay for my golden highlights now). The other exquisitely Asian daughter was adopted from China and shares my heart. When our family, which includes my blue-eyed husband from Connecticut, goes out and about in our suburban Florida neighborhood, we cause ripples in the ordinary. Ours is an adoptive, biological, multicultural, biracial family—and it shows.

Or something like that. The truth is, we may look visibly different, but we are a family same as any. Our family did not set out to represent any label. I’m not even sure what those terms really mean. But the truth also is, our family embodies a uniqueness that never ceases to surprise, sometimes sadden, and often delight us.

Not long ago we had one of those multicultural family moments. My daughter, Hanna, and I sat at the coffee table doing her first-grade homework. One of the assignments was to write down where her ancestors are from, if known. Hanna tapped her pencil in thought, her straight black hair falling over her face. While I wondered which ancestors she’d choose, Hanna was working out how to spell China.
“Oh, wait, I know how to spell China,” she said. “It’s on my lunchbox… even on my underwear! Look!” Hanna squirmed around, tugging the panties out of her jeans.

For the record, the panties were from Thailand. But we found that the lunchbox, a pair of socks and a toy guitar were Made in China. “Just like me!” Hanna squealed.

Technically Hanna was “made” in China. This is what we were told: Our daughter was born in a village in a southeastern province of China on a winter night. By the next morning, she was found outside the gates of a social welfare institute. She was taken in, given a name meaning “winter mushroom”, and placed into foster care, until my husband, older daughter, and I came along nine and a half months later.

Suddenly, in adopting this baby girl, our family of three Caucasians became four Americans —one of whom is also Asian. We are one family now made of two races and two cultures. She became a part of our world, but we also became a part of hers. Now we think about things we hadn’t before, such as where we buy our underwear.

In the months after we brought our daughter home from China, our family evoked glances and whispers whenever we went places together. The four of us were like a walking poster family for international adoption. Honestly, I did not mind. I was so sleep-deprived and fluent in baby talk then, I appreciated the adult conversation.

Besides, people were usually polite, always kind, and occasionally told us stories about their children who had been adopted, too. More than once a teary-eyed woman tapped me on the shoulder at the grocery store wanting to know about my adoption experience, usually because she was considering adopting a child herself. The markedly visible differences between Hanna and me gave rise to some beautiful conversations —and I hope some even more beautiful mother-child relationships.

Either the glances have faded, or I have stopped noticing, because I often forget there is anything unusual about our family. These days, some six years after adopting our daughter from China, our everyday lives are much like any family living in our palm-lined neighborhood about an hour inland from the Gulf of Mexico. Our kids go to school and theater, dance class and piano lessons, riding the minivan shuttle up and down the main boulevard. Like the other moms, I drive my kids to and fro, racing upstairs to my office to work while they’re in school. Months will go by while I am making lunches and meeting deadlines and trying to be a somewhat balanced, mostly showered human being. Then, a school assignment about a “Family Tree” or a whispered question at the club pool will remind me how different we are.

“Is she your mom?” a child will ask Hanna. “How come she does not look like you?” Or Kathryn, the daughter who does look like me, will introduce her little sister, and the person’s face will wrinkle in confusion. Sometimes people will say, “Who is her real mom?” and I will cringe and breathe. It’s in a moment like this I will pull out those terms “birthmother” and “adoptive mother” that I otherwise don’t like so much. They beat the alternative: being Kathryn’s “real” mother and Hanna’s “unreal” one.

Anyone who has adopted a child, or knows someone who has, surely knows there is nothing unreal about being an adoptive parent. We give real hugs and put real Band-Aids on real skinned knees. Our love and worry for our children is as real as it gets. On the other hand, there are some real differences, too.

I wish I could tell those women who tapped my shoulder in the grocery store all I have learned about being a biological and adoptive mother in a multicultural, biracial family of four. It sounds ridiculous, even to me. Yet, strip the cumbersome labels away and it’s who I am.

All I wanted to do was have a second child. When I ended up adopting her from another country, I entered another world. Unwittingly, I became an ambassador to this new place and a translator of these odd terms that now describe my family. I know about things now such as an adjustment period (translate to three months’ of hair-raising crying –mostly Hanna, some me) and the attachment process (beginning in a moonlit moment when Hanna stopped crying and, instead of straining away, nuzzled close). Now, along with birthdays and Christmas and the Fourth of July, I celebrate occasions such as “Gotcha Day” and Chinese New Year. I have made moon cakes and Chinese lanterns, and a million mistakes.

I never know quite how to respond when people say awkward or insensitive things to me about adoption. Even innocent things such as, Hanna is “lucky” to have been adopted. I know who the lucky one is (me) and about the sad layers of unluckiness surrounding Hanna’s birth and abandonment. Sometimes I’m patient and brilliant, but often I say nothing right or everything wrong.

I am in lifelong boot camp training for parenthood and learning as I go.
On the fly, I have explained to a three-year-old why my eyes are sky blue and hers are chocolate brown. I’ve told a four-year-old why she was born in another mother’s tummy. I’ve looked a five-year-old deep in her brown eyes and said I understand your sense of longing for a woman you have not seen since birth. I once tried to explain to a six-year-old, “No I did not buy you in China.” And when I inadvertently said she was priceless, she shouted, “They had a price list?!” Oh yes. I’ve held the hand of a seven-year-old tightly as she told me her face is round and the other kids at school have oval faces. And, I know the harder conversations are still to come.

Nope, I never expected how different life would be after adopting a child from the other side of the skies. Going in, having birthed a child and raised her for seven years, I thought I knew something about parenting. Adopting a second child taught me how much I would never know.

Maybe because I have both a birthed a child and adopted one, I can see how much biological and adoptive parenting is exactly alike, and not at all the same. Issues arise when parenting. Sometimes I can tell what is adoption-related and what is just a kid thing. Sometimes I can’t. One thing I am absolutely sure of from this dual vantage point is this: though I may love each child differently, there is no difference in how much I love my children.

I also know I would not have my different kind of family be any other way. Different also means not the same. I remember my husband and I trying to explain who we were in an interview during the adoption process. We are not the same people we were back then. We are far more giving and open-minded, loving and patient and real than we had ever thought. Likewise, our daughter Kathryn had to surrender her only-child status to a disarmingly adorable Asian sister and along the way deepened her generosity and compassion.

That’s the thing about becoming something out of the ordinary. By standing apart, we can look back and see how much we have changed. By embracing differences in race and culture in our family, we can look out and see the world newly. Still, we do not see ourselves as multicultural, adoptive or different. We’re just us.

Once, a year or so ago, I asked Hanna to describe our family. She said it better than I ever could. “That’s easy, Mommy. We are group of people who love each other.”

Stacy Clark is a writer and mother of two daughters, by birth and adoption. She writes on The Yin and the Yang: Life After International Adoption and blogs about life in an adoptive family at This Side of the Skies.


I See America’s Diverse Future—In My House

September 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Family

By Melissa Fay Greene



The very words “majority” and “minority” in American demographics are about to swap meanings, like partners on opposing sides of a Virginia reel who lock arms in the middle, whirl about, and take up positions on opposite sides of the lineup.

A few weeks ago, the U.S. Census Bureau revealed dramatic news: America’s ethnic minorities, including immigrants, are rising in number, while its traditional white majority is aging and failing to reproduce at replacement levels.

Arizona leads the trend: 83% of Arizona’s senior citizens identify as “non-Hispanic white,” but only 42% of its young people check that box on their census forms. Policy-makers note a “cultural generation gap,” and wonder whether “aging whites” will remain committed to paying taxes for the public schools as they fill with children of color, and whether a diverse and foreign-born generation of young adults will be eager to care for and fund programs for those aging whites.

All this talk of aging whites (unspoken adjective: “cranky”) and of “minority youth” (implication: headphones, fitted baseball caps, and platinum teeth-grilles) inspires in my husband and me a feeling of: “Been there, done that.”

Our family is more like Arizona than Arizona.

In our family of two parents and nine children (ages 13 to 29, four by birth and five by adoption), 100% of the citizens age 57 and up are non-Hispanic whites. One-hundred percent of the four citizens 18 and older (the “bio children”) are non-Hispanic whites.

The cultural generation gap hits between the 17- and the 18-year-olds. Of the generation of persons 13 to 17 years of age (our “adopted children”), 100% are “foreign-born minority:” one a brown-skinned Romani boy from Bulgaria and three boys and one girl from Ethiopia.

What these changes have meant for us socially, politically, economically, culturally and in conversations regarding the importance of zirconium stud earrings for teenage males, and whether or not every pizza has to be plastered with jalapeño peppers, has important implications for Americans.

Who isn’t concerned about which sports broadcasts will dominate evening television viewing in 21st-century American households: L.A. Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves, or Manchester United vs. Tottenham? What aging white wouldn’t prefer to be greeted by a nice plate of macaroni and cheese for dinner, and cookies for dessert, rather than a suspicious looking array of injera and wat, served in a colorful basket and requiring no silverware, with raw slices of un-American fruits like “mango” on the side?

Just this morning I turned on my car in the driveway (the car I lent to a 17-year-old African-born youth last night so he could drive with other African-born youths to a Korean take-out chicken place called Mo Betta Wings) and an X-rated hip-hop song blasted with such explosive force from the radio that, for a second, I thought I’d been in an accident.

Can such an incident be good for the heart of an aging white?

I turned down the volume, tuned in to our local NPR-affiliate station, and cruised through Atlanta’s shady streets to the rousing call of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony.

But in the afternoon, after I picked up my children from their schools, my radio dial was yanked counter-clockwise back to the hip-hop station; the volume dial was wrenched clockwise to the setting “Deafening;” the bass woofers shook my Honda Pilot and bounced off the exteriors of nearby vehicles; and we lurched and shimmied our way home.

I began to subtly twist in my seat to the steady rumbling beat. As we passed people on the sidewalk whom I knew slightly, I thought about shouting “Yo!” at them, or “Whassup?” But I refrained. I have learned that minority youth do not like to see their aging whites behave like that.

And the teenagers have learned that a radio rapper’s hoarse bellowing — out all four windows and up through the sunroof — of certain words starting with F, N, B, or W/H are unacceptable to the aging white female behind the wheel. They have learned that I will not entertain theories that begin: “Mom, they don’t mean nothing by it.”

They know I will reply: “Anything. They don’t mean anything by it. But they do. It’s misogynistic.” After which it’s back to Mendelssohn for all.

At Burlington Coat Factory, “minority youth” enjoy selecting urban-style clothing from designers like SeanJean, Ecko, Baby Phat, Rocawear, and LRG. A handsome, athletic middle-schooler named Yosef exits the dressing room in a new pair of jeans for Mother’s approval. Mother helpfully points out that, while Yosef’s waist is a medium, the waist of these jeans appears to be size XXXL. The waistband cuts across Yosef’s thighs.

He must hold up the jeans with one hand in order to avoid tripping over them on his way to the mirror.

“Those don’t fit,” mentions the aging white.

“Yes they do,” replies Yosef. “They’re fresh.”

Yosef, Mother learns, wants to have “swag” or fashion-sense. “Fit” is about as relevant a concept as “bargain” or “affordable.”

Historically, when non-Hispanic white children were the majority in our family, clothes were handed down from older siblings to younger. This occurred for one reason:

The older children outgrew the clothing.

In this era of demographic transition, however, clothes are handed up from younger siblings to older. This happens for two reasons: first, a few of the foreign-born younger children are growing to impressive heights. As Daniel, 16, and Yosef, 13, outgrow their jeans and sneakers, they hand them up to Lee, 23, and Seth, 26. Second, the younger children’s stylishly gigantic clothing is suitable for young adult siblings who prefer snugger fits. “My favorite basketball shorts,” says Lee, “belonged to Yosef when he was 10.”

Democracy has been a remarkable discovery for children coming from worlds of social marginalization or of repressive regimes. Yosef and Daniel arrived from Ethiopia at ages 10 and 13 in June 2007, four months after the U.S. senator from Illinois announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. But I couldn’t seem to interest Daniel in Sen. Obama’s campaign or anyone else’s. In Daniel’s experience, presidential campaigns tended to end in gunfire.

“Look, Daniel!” I called to him one evening, pointing out Barack Obama in the row of podiums at a candidates’ debate. “He could be the first black American president!”

“Where, Mom?” barked the gangly fellow.

“There, Daniel, right there,” I said, gesturing again toward the senator.

“Where, Mom?” he repeated, with the Ethiopian roll of the R.

I walked to the TV and put my finger on Obama’s head. “Daniel, right there. This man.”

In Daniel’s experience, presidential campaigns tend to involve black candidates. But this didn’t look like one of them. “No, Mom,” he said sadly. “Not black, Mom. He not black.”

In time, though, Daniel was swept up in the family’s and the neighborhood’s and the city’s enthusiasm. But his memory of stolen elections haunted him. “Mom,” he said one night. “Do you think they will let Obama win?”

“Yes, Daniel,” I said. “I think they will.”

Conversations about schoolwork take on new zest when, rather than a specific work of literature or history, you are wrestling with the English language itself, sometimes pinned down by an immigrant youth, and sometimes throwing and clobbering the youth instead.

“Mom! Body all now I can. All. Ask!” Daniel ordered me enthusiastically in the car one afternoon as I drove him to soccer practice. He was then 13 and had lived in America for two months. He’d arrived from Ethiopia without a word of English. I guessed that he was relaying good news from his English as a Second Language class, but the precise nature of his good news eluded me. I thought he was saying, Body oil now I can. Oil.


I could not wait to ask. “OK!” I shouted.


“All body oil?”

“All,” he repeated. “Teacher say: One hundred!”



“One hundred!” I marveled.

“Ask!” he said again, beaming with expectation.

I… I hardly knew where to begin. “Oil?”

“Oh my God,” said Daniel.

He touched my shoulder and asked: “This one?”

“This one?”

“Shoulder!” he shouted.

“Oh!” I said. “You learned the parts of the body!”

“All body me! Ask!”

Now I got it! I held up my hand.

“Hand!” said Daniel.

I pointed to my chin.

“Chin!” said Daniel.

I outlined my lips.

“Mouth!” said Daniel.

I held up my thumb.

“Moth!” said Daniel.

“Hmmm, not quite.”

“With!” said Daniel. “Bath! Both!”

I burst out laughing.

“Oh,” said Daniel sadly. “I know it is T-h. I do not like that T-h.”

“Thumb,” I said.

“Tumb,” said Daniel. “I knew T-h. No good that T-h.”

I loved talking to Daniel about school. With or without oil.

School. The right to go to school; the right to be welcomed and seated among one’s peers, addressed kindly by teachers, given books to read and to take home, holds a great allure for children from countries so poor that education is a luxury for the few.

Most of our younger children had been too poor to attend school in their home countries. Several arrived here, at older ages, illiterate. They take school seriously, as a privilege more than as an obligation.

I attended a parent-teacher meeting one afternoon at Shamrock Middle School when Sol was a sixth-grader. “This class has become very, very unruly,” his Social Studies teacher began. “Many of the children are loud and disrespectful.” I braced myself for bad news, while thinking how surprised I’d be by bad news as Sol invariably rose at 5 a.m. and dressed neatly to be ready for school every day.

She continued: “One day last week, I told the class: ‘I am going to go sit at the table under the windows. If anyone here actually wants to learn Social Studies, you can join me.’ I took my things and moved to the far table. The children were surprised, but no one moved. .. except Sol. He picked up his backpack and came to sit across from me. He got out his notebook and pencil.” The teacher’s eyes filled with tears as she said, “I taught him the lesson.”

Later, the teacher continued, when class was dismissed, one of the tough guys in class growled at Sol: “Don’t you ever do anything wrong?” and Sol, a handsome and highly skilled athlete, shrugged and said, “Why should I?”

To all Arizonans and future Arizonans, I say: Be not afraid! Let glorious diverse youth — both native-born and immigrant — grow up and thrive in America. Let them share with older white Americans their hip-hop fashions and poetry, sports and music, art and cuisine, love of democracy and desire for education, ambitions and dreams.

My husband, children, and I have seen the future and it is spicy, boisterous, fashionable, smart, funny, loud, democratic, wise-cracking and sweet; in short: It is American.

This article was originally posted on


Weaving the Stories Together

April 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Adoptive Families, Family, Meika Rouda

By: Meika Rouda

“How many of you are adopted?” the keynote speaker asked. I raised my hand. The auditorium was packed with people. Who were they? I wondered. Social workers, adoptees, adoptive families, birthmothers? All of the above. “How many of you have adopted children?” I raised my hand again. The woman next to me, a petite blonde in her late twenties wearing uncomfortable business attire turned to me and said “well you are sure in this aren’t you?” I smiled at her. “How many of you are birthmothers?” The woman next to me raised her hand. She had also raised her hand as an adoptee. I found it fascinating that she was an adoptee and a birth mom. She found it fascinating I was an adoptee and an adoptive mom with no biological children of my own.
Last weekend I attended my first adoption conference. I went there expecting to feel like an outsider, the girl who doesn’t want to know her birthmother, the one who isn’t in touch with her children’s biological families. I ended up finding a lot of people there who felt underrepresented. There were several adoptive fathers who I spoke to that were offended that the common idea is that men are the ones who have to be convinced to adopt when that wasn’t their story at all. They had to convince their wives! These were men who didn’t care about passing on their DNA but had to wait for their wives to come around before they could adopt. This was the norm for them, but not the norm for the data.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “The data says…” People love to rely on data. But where does this data come from? Where do they find the people to interview, to do case studies on? There is a lot of data that state it’s better for a child to know their birthparents. To have a concise story with mementos about their birth family. The idea of this makes my skin crawl and I can’t say exactly why. I guess because it feels so unnatural to me. One of the seminars I attended was about how to talk to your child if you have no contact with your child’s birthmother. Most of the people in the seminar had International Adoptions, situations where it was impossible to know who the birthmother was. Their baby was left in a park in China and taken to an orphanage. They wanted to know how to make that story into something positive. “You can tell them that their birthmother left them somewhere that she knew they would be found quickly. That she waited in the bushes in the park to make sure the baby was picked up by the adoption agency. That she wanted a good life for the baby.” It is nice to create a story for the adoptee although at some point, the girl is going to learn about the Chinese government’s one child per couple law and the fact that girls are not valued in that country which led to her being left in the park.

The seminar leader continued coaching the parent. “And usually these women leave a memento with the child, a piece of cloth or a coin. If they did, make sure you give that to your child. Adoptees cherish mementos from their birthmother. ”

Say what? I have no mementos from my birthmother. Oh, actually I do, I have the correspondence she wrote to the attorney handling my adoption. I suppose it is nice to have these letters but do I cherish them? No. I don’t even know where they are. I think in a box maybe in my garage. What is the memento supposed to represent? That they cared for me?

Another group of the underrepresented were birthmothers who don’t want contact with the children they have placed. These were young women, not older ones who may have suffered the “primal wound” or placed babies unwillingly. These young women feel badly that they don’t want contact because the data says… You get what I am saying.

My main takeaway from the conference was that each adoption is different just as each person is different. Just because I don’t want to know my birthmother or birth family, doesn’t make me wrong or make my experience any less valuable than those who are in touch with their birth families and benefit from that. There really is no right or wrong in adoption except of course secrecy and lies which is harmful in any situation, not just adoption. I admit that there was a point during the day that I was sure I would reach out to my children’s birthmothers. That I would keep tabs on them and make sure they were doing well so I could update my kids on their status. The data had convinced me that this would be good for them. But it feels uncomfortable for me. Should I put my feelings aside to do what the data shows is positive for my kids? I decided at the end of the day not to. To just keep their information for my kids for if/when they want to contact them. That is part of their story, not mine. That should be their choice, not mine.

To me the important part is having access to information. To be able to have the choice to be in touch for all parties involved in the triad. It is their choice and the option is there but I don’t think I need to refer to my son’s birthmother as “Mommy Shannon” in order for him to have a good sense of self and strong identity. She is not someone who is a constant in his life at this moment. I know what the data says and I know what my heart and experience say too.
I wanted to talk to the woman who sat next to me at the conference. I wanted to find out her story, how she came to place a child, whether she was in touch with her own birthmother. It felt good to be in a room with other people who have stories either like mine or different from mine but that we are all touched by how powerful adoption is. The woman left before I could talk to her but as I saw her exit the building. I felt a kinship with her. Our stories may be different but our feelings about adoption being a positive experience are the same.


The Art of Multicultural Parenting

May 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Adoptive Families, Family, Parenting

By: Stacy Clark

Adoptive Child

A couple of summers ago, my daughter Hanna attended a weekly art class here in our suburban Florida neighborhood. Picture a master-planned community with meandering tree-lined boulevards and tidy homes tucked within stone-walled villages, named after places in England. While there are families of different races and cultures sprinkled about, the majority of our neighbors are white. The thing is Hanna is not. She was adopted into our little corner of Americana from her birthplace in China before she was a year old.

As Hanna’s mom, I am sensitive to making sure Hanna has friends and role models that share her race and heritage. (I’ve read and been told this will help her develop a positive self image.) I am not always successful, but often lucky.

Take art class for example. On a Sunday morning, I drove Hanna a couple villages over to the home where the class was being held. An Asian woman peeked out the front door and waved us in. Other parents arrived with kids in tow, also Asian, specifically Chinese. This is great I thought while stumbling over the slippers the host quietly set behind me after I removed my shoes in the foyer. We came to art class because Hanna loves art, but the Chinese culture was a real bonus. Even the art teacher was Chinese.

The only one not Chinese was me.

As a blond-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian woman growing up in the suburbs of Maryland, I’ve always been a part of the majority culture. Mostly, my culture has been like water to a fish, unnoticeable to me. They were as nice as could be, these mothers and fathers with the wide smiles who gathered at the door speaking in rapid Mandarin. Yet suddenly I was the stranger in a strange land.

I was the bright, white bulb in an otherwise elegantly nuanced room. Rapidly I sought clues on how to behave. Should I take off my shoes? Do I wear the slippers? Do I stay for class or leave? Next time do I ring the bell or walk in?

Since it was Hanna’s first class, I accompanied her to the upstairs art room. I sat behind her observing the joy, affinity and boisterous synchronicity of the children and adults all around us as the students got settled and class ensued.

That old ditty from Sesame Street ran singsong through my head. One of these things is not like the other things, not like the other things… Of course, I was not alike. Aside from looking different and not speaking the language, I did not understand the intonations, mannerisms, social dynamics and niceties so effortlessly passing between these families, who shared a common culture.

But here was the real surprise. Hanna was not like the other ones either. Oh she looked like all the adorable boys and girls with dark hair and deep brown eyes holding pastels in their hands. Yet, Hanna was a “fish out of water,” too.

Hanna eyed the teacher, swiped her pastel across the page leaving color in its wake. She studied, erased, swiped again. Right then, I realized the obvious: Hanna may look like the girls beside her, but her mannerisms mimicked mine. It was safe to infer that the way she relates to others, the values she holds, the standards of behavior she follows, have also largely been learned from me.

While Hanna was born in China and presumably has Chinese birthparents, she is being raised by an American family and in the American culture. We adopted her, but she has been daily adopting our attributes and perspectives.

I could take Hanna to Chinese cultural festivals and Mandarin lessons, buy her Chinese CDs, books and Nintendo games—all of which I have done—but Hanna would never be “Chinese” the way the children in the art room were.

I left the art class that summer day feeling self-conscious, somewhat defeated and oddly relieved. No matter how I tried, I’d never be able to give Hanna a true “culturally Chinese” upbringing. I called a friend.

“I am so not Chinese,” I sighed.

“I could have told you that, Blondie,” she laughed, but understood.

This was one of those challenges of being a multicultural family that I had heard about during the adoption process. You could say Hanna is like any kid in our neighborhood, and it would be true, and not true. Art class vividly revealed the cultural gap into which Hanna could fall—somewhere between Chinese and American. Where in there would she find her sense of belonging?

The art class turned out to be a good thing for Hanna, but also for me. She gleaned art and culture; I gained new understanding. Even though everyone was nice, I felt uncomfortable and out of place around so many people “not like me.” I had a glimpse of what my daughter may now or someday feel as an Asian girl surrounded by Caucasians, or as a child born in China and raised in America. Standing out in a world where we want to belong is no easy thing.

Hanna is seven. She knows the story of her birth and adoption and is proud of her Chinese heritage, but is only beginning to understand why it all matters to her. For now, I pull on the threads of her origins and weave them into her American life as best I can. I buy Chinese flashcards and make moon cakes and keep an eye out for cultural experiences. I stumble into art classes and trip gratefully over a culture so foreign to me, yet so a part of my daughter.

Still, I know my actions are stopgaps in a sense, efforts to keep the sparks of her heritage alive until Hanna is ready to discover and embrace her identity however she chooses. In the end, it is Hanna who must bridge any distance between where she came from, how she was raised and the life she will lead.

Stacy Clark, a mother via birth and adoption, is a contributing writer for The Next Family. She also writes The Yin and the Yang on and blogs about life in a multicultural, adoptive family at


How to Adopt a Baby

By: Katherine Malmo

1. Talk to friends and friends of friends about their experiences.

2. Try not to get lost driving around foreign neighborhoods looking for a community center that will host the Journeys of the Love, Hope, Heart, Blessed-Child’s Dream of the Christ’s Open Adoption agency meeting.

3. Ask the social workers what programs/countries will let you adopt if you are single, over 40, in a same-sex relationship, and/or a cancer survivor.

4. Choose the agency that can answer your question.

5. Get fingerprinted, background-checked, dig up the value of your house, find pay stubs, photocopy bank statements, get friends to write references, find your dog’s vaccination records, have the pet store where you purchased your fish sign an affidavit of its health, make a list of every illness you’ve ever had, dig up the name of your third grade teacher who could verify that indeed your favorite color was lavender, make a list of your stuffed animals and their names and how well you took care of each and every one of them, and promise, that if they could talk, they would guarantee that, if given the opportunity, you’d be the bestest mother ever.

6. Ponder questions for your autobiography like, how do your parents feel about education? Resist the urge to say they hate education and schools and especially do-gooder teachers, but that they also hate puppies and kittens, rainbows and balloons. Do not say your parents are puppy-kicking balloon-poppers.

7. Invite a social worker into your home and show her that you keep your medicines locked away, your fire ladder in the baby-to-be’s room, and your floors shiny-clean.

8. Wait.

9. Wait.

10. Wait.

11. Try not to punch the social worker who says you seem really anxious about this when you’re waiting to hear from a prospective birth mother.

12. Make a spreadsheet with everything an infant could possibly need –from diaper wipes and burp cloths to gliders and strollers –while you wait.

13. Decide you’re sick of waiting and start researching other options/agencies. Find the notes from friends of friends you talked to ages ago.

14. Resist the urge to get a tiny dog or a gerbil or any other small animal that you can carry in your purse. Resist. A Chihuahua is, in fact, not a baby.

15. Find an independent facilitator. Send her your homestudy.

16. Don’t let her pressure you into a situation that isn’t right for you.

17. When she yells at you, you may want to tell her she should be ashamed. You may stop talking to her.

18. Hand the phone to your spouse when she calls a week later. She’ll tell him your baby has been born.

19. Leave a bag of dog food on the back porch and, on the way to the airport, ask your parents to come get your dog.

20. When you meet your baby, she may be wrapped in a purple hand-knit blanket and have an orange bow stuck to her head with a dab of maple syrup.

21. Spend 3 weeks in a rented condo/bachelor pad.

22. You may dream that you can’t find your baby buried in your bedding and you may wake up pulling the sheets off your bed panicked. Totally normal.

23. Go ahead and check your three giant bags and a boxed-up pack-n-play on your way home. The airline will look the other way.

24. When you get home, open your doors to your friends and family. Let them love her. Take their pictures with her. Let them celebrate. They’ve been waiting too.

25. You may run into her room while she’s sleeping to be sure she’s still breathing. Also totally normal.

26. Dress her in tiny hand-knit socks and hats. Take pictures.

27. Put her in a swing. Take a picture. Watch her crawl. Take a picture. Put a ponytail in her hair. Take a picture. Put her in the snow. Put her in the water. Lean her against the dog. Take pictures, pictures, pictures.

28. Go to the courthouse and have your picture taken with the judge who finalizes the adoption.

29. Put all these pictures in a book. Read her story to her. When she’s two she may ask who the man is in the picture at the courthouse. You’ll tell her he’s the man who said you’d be her mommy forever and ever. She just might kiss him and say Thank you!

30. You may be exhausted and, probably, very grateful you didn’t punch anyone in the face, call your parents puppy-kicking balloon-poppers, or get a tiny dog or gerbil or other small animal that could fit in your purse.

Katherine Malmo is the Norwegian-American mother of an African-American three year old who loves Curious George, Mavis Staples and cookies; and the wife of an extremely likeable software engineer with a fondness for roadside furniture and a habit of whistling in his sleep. In 2005 Katherine was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer and spent a year in treatment. These days she is cancer-free and blogs about her family, adoption, race, health and living a low-toxin life at HystericalMommyNetwork. Her book, Who in This Room, will be available in October 2011.


2 Dads, Children And Babies

December 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Family

By: Chris Coyne

Jon and I both come from large families.  Jon is the oldest of four boys.  I was the youngest of four kids but my mother adopted four kids with her second husband.  I have always supported my mother and her decision to adopt four beautiful children.  My mom helped raise her brothers and sisters when she was young; she raised four wonderful kids with very limited resources, wink wink, she had a family day care while I was in high school and finally she was a foster parent for years who specialized in fostering children who required an emergency shelter home.
Growing up I was surrounded by children.  It was no big surprise to Jon that I wanted to be a dad.  We had been together for about two years when I started looking into the prospect of parenthood.  Our options seemed endless while doing the research.  At times it felt like it was not possible.  Jon worked a hundred hours a week. We moved into a crappy little duplex in West Hollywood.  We were traveling quite a bit.  We went to Costa Rica and Argentina for vacations, we traveled to the east coast for all the holidays to be with Jon’s family.  Was this the lifestyle in which to bring up a child?  Could we really be good parents?  I had no idea what we had in store for our future.  I did know Jon was going to be a great dad. I knew fatherhood would change our lives in unimaginable ways.  We both have siblings who have kids.  We thought we knew what we were getting into.
On the first Sunday after our trip to Costa Rica I set up an appointment with an international adoption agency.  I was so excited to find out if Jon and I could become parents through their program.  It was a very informal meeting at a hotel by LAX and we were so excited we showed up thirty minutes early.  We are never early to anything.  We were the first couple to arrive and we were the only gay couple at the meeting. The person who presented the program to us was the director of the Russian program and she repeatedly pointed out in her presentation that we could never adopt from her program as a “same sex couple but there was a program we did qualify for and that was the Guatemala program.”  Every time she said “same sex couple” every other couple would look over at us.  It was really weird and tense.  Basically the meeting ran around all of our questions; the other couples did not have many questions.  The program in Russia was really cut and dry and time tested but we had a special situation.
At the end of the meeting a woman came in with her 8-month-old adopted daughter.  The other couples were cooing and cawing over this baby, but Jon and I were totally turned off by the program.  Basically you have to make a payment to the Guatemalan government that subsidizes the social services in their country.  So you pay the government for the child.  It felt like we would be buying the child from the government.  We were not into that!
The next week we went to another information meeting.  Followed by another and another.  For a few months all we did was adoption information sessions.  We had endless options.  Open adoption, closed adoption, private, public, and of course we could buy a baby through international adoption.  The one thing we knew was that we had to get a home study.  We were sure we would figure out what was right for us after that process.
We were so burnt out from all the information sessions we finally contracted with IAC, Independent Adoption Center, to do our adoption home study.  We sent in a check and signed some forms online.  They sent us a book of papers.  It was going to take some time but we dove in head first.  There was only one problem.  We did not know if adoption was going to be right for us.

Adoption Is So In Vogue

December 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Adoptive Families

By: Jillian Lauren

An adoptive mommy in our extended network wrote this intelligent article on international adoption in Vogue.

Jillian Lauren


No Words

September 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Adoptive Families

By: Jillian Lauren
At the Ethiopian Airlines counter at Washington Dulles International Airport, the woman in line behind me was just bemoaning the fact that she was going to miss out on the sheep they were slaughtering for Christmas. The woman asked her daughter to save a leg in the fridge until she returned. After two years of social workers and paper work and hard, hard lessons in patience, we’re finally boarding a plane to go bring home our son. I have no words.

The dogs are more expressive than I am. The picture above is an illustration of how they feel about us leaving for two weeks. They mangled one of the dolls meant as a donation for the orphans. We found it half-buried in the backyard.