Tag Archives: Adoption

Poetry of Loss

The Plath Poetry Project is one of the most unique poetry projects around. The central event involves writing poems that are inspired by Plath poetry. The poems are accompanied by explanations of  the inspiration. PPP published a poem I wrote once before, and now they have published one I wrote based on Plath’s “For a Fatherless Son.”

by Sylvia Plath

You will be aware of an absence, presently,
Growing beside you, like a tree,
A death tree, color gone, an Australian gum tree —-
Balding, gelded by lightning—an illusion,
And a sky like a pig’s backside, an utter lack of attention.
But right now you are dumb.
And I love your stupidity,
The blind mirror of it. I look in
And find no face but my own, and you think that’s funny.
It is good for me
To have you grab my nose, a ladder rung.
One day you may touch what’s wrong —-
The small skulls, the smashed blue hills, the godawful hush.
Till then your smiles are found money.

 

My poem is “For an Adopted Child,” and if you read the poem and the explanation you will see how I came to write a darker poem about adoption.

For An Adopted Child

My children were adopted by the gardener and me as babies. My brother was also adopted by my parents as a baby. Although my kids are vocal about the positive side of adoption, that does not mean that they haven’t been scarred by the process of adoption. Adoptees aren’t born when they join their adoptive families. They have lives before that–perhaps a week, three months, or six years. They know loss before most other people. In the case of my kids, they are transracial adoptees, so that brings some more baggage along with it.

We’ve come a long way from the days when even educated people told adoptees they are lucky they were adopted, but there are still plenty of unenlightened people out there saying stupid stuff, never fear. It’s not lucky to lose your birth family, no matter what the circumstances. It’s not lucky to know loss so young.

I hope you appreciate “For an Adopted Child”; it’s one of my favorites.

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, Poetry, Publishing, Writing

Memoir Review: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

It’s not been such a great week. I closed comments on Monday’s post. Then I realized I couldn’t respond to comments when they were closed. I don’t know why that is, but apparently that is how WordPress operates. But know that I read your birthday wishes and thank you for them!!!

I’m going to try to pretend that the week has suddenly and miraculously taken a turn for the better and just move on. (Nothing big wrong–just very disappointed in humans. Well, maybe that is big).

I haven’t reviewed a memoir in months, but I’m back doing it today. The story in a nutshell will show you why this book tells a sensational(istic) tale, but also why it’s an important book to read.

Here’s the nutshell. The daughter of a white German woman and a Nigerian man, Jennifer Teege was born and raised in post-war Germany. She was adopted at age 7 by a German family. She ended up in Israel where she attended college, learned Hebrew, and made lifelong Israeli friends. At age 38, she learns that her grandfather was a famous Nazi, Amon Goeth. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, think harder. Think of Ralph Fiennes in the movie Schindler’s List. THAT Amon Goeth. (Shudder).

Amon Goeth

Yes, Amon Goeth had a black granddaughter who was born in 1970, long after he died.

Teege’s memoir is a very important book because of its great historical, psychological, and philosophical consequence. I’ve read a lot of Holocaust memoirs, but most of them have been from the perspective of the Jewish survivors and sometimes, like Anne Frank’s diary, the dead victims. This book examines the consequences for the descendents of the Nazi perpetrators—both 2nd (like Jennifer’s birth mother) and 3rd (like Jennifer) generations

Additionally, Teege’s perspective is unique because she herself is biracial and grew up in a transracial household—the only non-white family member. Teege also carries the baggage of an adoptee who suffers from abandonment issues.

In this story, we see her life as a child with her mother, Monika, and her grandmother, Ruth Irene Kalder, the mistress of Amon Goeth. That would be the mistress who lived on the premises of Płaszów, the concentration camp where Goeth routinely tortured and killed people.

We see her life with her white German family. Although her parents suffered from parenting and post-war issues themselves, they were kind, but clueless about parenting an adopted biracial child. That makes for an ambiguous relationship. But one of the most heart-warming aspects of the book is the relationship Teege had with her two brothers, the biological children of her parents. She was close to them from the beginning—and the closeness has lasted, particularly with her brother Matthias.

We see her eventually search for her biological father. And we see her reconnect with her Israeli friends (who have lost family in the Holocaust) after learning about her grandfather.

We also see Teege visiting Płaszów twice. One occurs right after she learns about her grandfather and after she has miscarried. The second occurs after she has had time to process this terrible news about her origins and hours after her father dies.

How history has affected Teege’s life, both before she knew the truth and afterward, makes for a fascinating read.

On Goodreads, I gave the book 4 stars because it didn’t have the greatest structure. If you notice the intensity flag in the middle it’s because of how she goes back to talk about her childhood. It’s all important to the overall story, but after such heavy-hitting information about the Nazi camp in the first chapters, it feels like a book about adoption for a little while. That’s ok, though, because it helps to learn so much more about Teege.

This is a book that should affect every reader in profound ways. What a story Teege has!

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I should mention that the book was co-authored by Nikola Sellmair, a German journalist. The book shouldn’t be read as a work of creative nonfiction in the way of Mary Karr books, but is interesting in how it gives two viewpoints throughout–that of Jennifer Teege in traditional first person memoir and a more objective viewpoint from Sellmair (differentiated by different font).

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Memoir, Nonfiction, Reading, Writing

Three Little Words From A Silenced Voice

Yesterday was a lousy day. My 16-year-old cat, Mac, was diagnosed with diabetes. The vet wants him to have two shots of insulin a day. I have no problem giving a cat a shot–my cat Pear needed allergy shots for years. But Mac has been very irritable in the last year. While he gives me face kisses on a several-times-a-day schedule without a problem, he most likely will not want shots.  Just a guess on my part, but everybody who knows him agrees.

That was my memoir sound byte of the day. Now on to the review of the week. It’s sort of a retread review, but a book you can’t miss.

In February 2013, on another blog, I wrote two posts about a memoir by a voice that is rarely heard: the voice of someone who grew up a ward of the state–a foster child. Here are excerpts from my posts:

Last night I finished reading Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s memoir Three Little Words.  The book, published in 2009, tells the story of how Ashley survived in Florida’s foster care system. Eventually she was adopted by a family with two adult sons, and she began a battle through the courts to seek justice and help for other foster children.

On Rhodes-Courter’s website, the synopsis is described this way:

“Sunshine, you’re my baby and I’m your only mother. You must mind the one taking care of you, but she’s not your mama.” Ashley Rhodes-Courter spent nine years of her life in fourteen different foster homes, living by those words. As her mother spirals out of control, Ashley is left clinging to an unpredictable, dissolving relationship, all the while getting pulled deeper and deeper into the foster care system.

Painful memories of being taken away from her home quickly become consumed by real-life horrors, where Ashley is juggled between caseworkers, shuffled from school to school, and forced to endure manipulative, humiliating treatment from a very abusive foster family. In this inspiring, unforgettable memoir, Ashley finds the courage to succeed – and in doing so, discovers the power of her own voice.

. . .  Ashley Rhodes-Courter . . .  was a foster child who lived in over a dozen foster homes and a shelter.  She was abused and neglected and lost in the system.  But because she eventually got a wonderful guardian ad litem to advocate for her, she ended up in an adoptive home.

In Ashley’s story, she describes how Gay Courter, her final foster mother and eventual adoptive mother, discovered that nobody had ever read a bedtime story to 13-year-old Ashley.  After that, Gay began to read Ashley “Pat the Bunny, Goodnight Moon, and Where the Wild Things Are.”

I took special note of the book choices because when I used to teach children’s literature, the picture books I used for in-depth analysis were Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are.  What phenomenal stories to introduce to Ashley.  They both are centered on images of the moon and the mother hovering in the background of the house.  The moon can be synonymous with the mother figure.  In this way, it could be seen that the mother in the house with the child is the adoptive mother and the moon overlooking, but at a distance, is the child’s birth mother.

. . . Ashley began babbling in baby talk and Gay responded by playing along.  Ashley declared that she wanted a baby bottle because her mother took hers away too soon.  This can also be “read” as Ashley losing her mother too soon.  Gay bought Ashley a bottle the very next day, and Ashley drank out of the bottle with relish.

I’m not a psychologist, and I’ve always pooh-poohed more “radical” ideas like the notion of taking somebody back to their babyhood.  But in Ashley’s story, she clearly initiated these actions herself, and it sounds like it was short-term, but helpful to her.

Some excellent reviews have been written about Three Little Words.  I won’t try to re-invent the wheel here, but I paid attention to some things that were mentioned almost in passing, but which I felt were important.

One of these passages was when Ashley went to her first event at the White House, an invitation she received from the Dave Thomas Foundation.  She was blushing with excitement and confesses “that it was as if my childish fantasies about accidentally being lost in foster care, while I was really meant for another, grander life, had come true.”  In literature, we see the “Cinderella” story being one of the most prevalent story types there is.  Harry Potter is a Cinderella character–an orphan raised by mean relatives until he goes off to Hogwarts and discovers that he is destined for greatness.  What a powerful fantasy to keep one going in the worst of times, to know that one deserves much more.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s book is a treasure to foster children and to a system that needs fixing so badly.  Every person who reads this book will feel a desire to advocate for these kids and to see the system change.  As a teen, Ashley herself sees the movie Erin Brockovich and decides that she will be like Erin and stand up for what’s right.  She will help other children who are enmeshed in the foster care system.  Today she is a public speaker on this issue and a foster mother.

When I read Rhodes-Courter’s book, I wasn’t looking at memoirs as a writer, but rather as an adoptive mom who cares about the plight of children–especially those without “representation.”

What do I find when I look at the book as a writer? I was transfixed by Rhodes-Courter’s story and surprised at the story-telling powers of a writer so young (Rhodes-Courter was 24 when her book was published). What I really learned from this book was not about writing, but about living. I learned how important it is to listen to the voices of those who often are not heard, how there are ways to help foster children without being a foster parents (becoming a guardian ad litem will give a child a voice in court!), and what it’s like to be a child caught up in the “system.”

This book should be read by teens, as well as adults.

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Filed under Book Review, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

I Found A Memoir About Loss

The book is called Found. And I am so glad I did. I have been searching like mad through my brain trying to remember who recommended this book so I can thank her.

Found is actually a sequel to a memoir called Blackbird, which I have not read. There was no need to read it first, although I plan to search for it.

Jennifer Lauck is an award-winning journalist, a skilled memoir writer, teacher, and speaker. But before she was those things she was a newborn never touched by her biological mother, a baby adopted by a sickly woman and her husband who both died by the time Jennifer was seven, and a little girl sent to live with various relatives of the adoptive parents. Later she was adopted by relatives who were inadequate and abusive. She knew they didn’t love her and wanted her social security money.

Apparently Blackbird is the story of her childhood, but in Found, Lauck gives the reader enough scenes of that childhood to understand the woman Lauck became. Found is the story of that woman.

Lauck presents herself as a “tough cookie” who goes after her education and a career as a reporter with determination. At the same time, the reader learns that there is a gaping abyss of loss and crushing feelings of abandonment at her very core. When she begins to search for what is wrong, she ends up at a Buddhist retreat, and for years, she commutes between the retreat and her home. But it’s a long time before she realizes that she needs to search for her birth mother. The irony of the seasoned reporter not realizing she had the tools necessary to search indicates how far down Lauck had suppressed her real feelings.

There is so much about Lauck’s story that is tragic. In the midst of the trail of tragedy the reader follows Lauck on, guide posts are placed. These guide posts are clues back to, or threads leading from, her original identity. They also add suspense and tension to the story.

Where this book moved beyond other adoption stories I’ve read is that Lauck allows the reader to explore with her the complexity of her feelings about her losses, about adoption, and about her family members, especially her birth mother.  There are so many emotion-filled scenes, but a quiet moment that really touched my heart was when Lauck agrees to be the mommy driver for two of her daughter’s classmates. She recognizes them as fellow adoptees. In their case, they are international adoptees, from Vietnam and India, whereas Lauck’s adoption was domestic (and private, not through the state, which made her search more difficult). With this one expert move, Lauck shows the reader her growing awareness of how the trauma of adoption has affected her personality, that she has learned compassion for others (yes, others have gone through this early abandonment and loss, too), and that some of the same problems of adoption still exist today.

As an adoptive mother and sibling, I feel so strongly that anybody considering adoption today needs to read accounts by adult adoptees and make sure she pursues adoption for the right reasons and in a manner that is set up 100% to benefit the child (and maybe not even just that one child, but children in general).

Although this book focuses on adoption, most people have experienced or will experience losses in their life, and this book will resonate triumphantly within the heart and soul of any reader.

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Filed under Book Review, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

Cross-post: “The Importance of Story”

Today I wrote this post for the adoption blog called Don’t We Look Alike? that I write with my daughter, but it also seemed to connect with this blog as it concerns the notion of story.

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.” ― Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

Everybody and everything has a story.  According to Terry Pratchett, we are all shaped by stories.  This quote might mean that reading a variety of stories helps develop us into who we are.  But, in fact, we are shaped even more by the stories which are unique to our selves.

We create stories out of our complex lives.  To understand ourselves and others around us, we tell ourselves stories that make some sense out of it all.

As Patrick Rothfuss puts it:

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”

Most of us come to our consciousness with family stories told to us by relatives.  Even in families which are reticent to talk about the past, there is a pattern which is story in hearing that one has the same stubborn streak as one’s father and that he has hammer toes because his mother couldn’t afford to buy him new shoes when his feet grew.  These elements become part of the story of the child.

Some people have stories which are missing big gaps.  Imagine having amnesia in your fourth grade year.  You can remember the rest of your life, but there is a hole where an entire year should be.  Many adoptees have a hole larger than this.  If an adoptee was not part of an open adoption, it’s probable that she was not given much information about who her birth parents were, what their stories were, and what their lives were like when she was not yet born.

The person who was adopted might not know anything about her own birth or what her life was like as an infant.  When there is information shared, it can be sparse and not tied into a narrative.  It might not even be accurate.  It could be lies.

I was not adopted, and I have been told plenty of family stories.  I grew up with family stories and photos.  Many of the dots were connected for me.  Recently I’ve done some genealogical research, and it astonishes me how some of the stories I was told turned out not to be accurate.  However, the most fundamental information has been true, unlike that for some adoptees.

My children were adopted as babies in international adoptions.  We received some pages of information from the agency.  Mainly, we learned about their medical exam results while living in the orphanage (son) or with the foster family (daughter). We learned their weight and health when they were brought to Holt. But there is also information on the charts listing the ages and education levels of their birth parents, and what areas they came from.  When we read these pages with our case worker, she filled in information, providing us with story fragments.

I took all the information we had been given—both written and oral, guesses and facts—and wrote up stories for both children, providing them with a story which pre-dates their lives in our family.

It seemed important that they have their own stories.

“[T]here’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.” ― Mitch Albom, For One More Day

Think of this: “behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin” [my italics].

So while it seems important that the kids have their own stories, these stories had to begin with the stories of their birth mothers.

Next time you wonder why many adoptees search for their birth families and wish to to learn information about these families, remember that you are who you are because you have your own story.  They are only searching for part of their story, a story that is important to their very identity.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory