The words have become as amorphous as my identity. When I think of home and family, the expected imagery doesn’t appear before my mind’s eye. Even after getting married, buying a home and having children of my own (not necessarily in that order), I still have difficulty associating the two words with the permanence and certainty my non-adopted peers enjoy.
I still refer to Vietnam as back home and have no idea why. They say home is where the heart is, but what does that mean to a puff of wind? In the movie, The Wind and the Lion, Raisuli writes in a letter to Teddy Roosevelt, “…you are like the Wind and I like the Lion. You form the Tempest. The sand stings my eyes and the Ground is parched. I roar in defiance but you do not hear. But between us there is a difference. I, like the lion, must remain in my place. While you like the wind will never know yours.”
It’s difficult to decide which part of the the quote reverberates with me the most. Like the lion, I roar in defiance as the wind blows sand in my eyes. Blinded once, I know to close them again would mean selling my soul for the illusion I’d fought so hard to dissolve. I will not be swept away again like so many grains of sand, will not settle into the cracks of my shattered identity. Yet, because of my fragmented sense of self, I may never know “my place” with any real sense of certainty. Adoption has made me both wind and lion.
It is partly because of this that permanent homes and forever families almost sound like a joke. I understand the good intentions behind their use. They’re suppose to imply stability but how much of their use is reliant on imagery embedded into the American psyche by shows like Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It to Beaver or even the Brady Bunch? Mom, Dad, brother, sister and the white picket fence, it’s the American dream that we all still want, but one that’s becoming increasingly hard to achieve and maintain. Happily ever after is implied but as we all know, that’s not always the case.
Even though society has taken steps to change our concepts of family dynamics, the old ideals remain prevalent in our minds. We can see it in the media, in our schools, our literature and even in the adoption industry as we struggle to maintain the illusion.
We can delude ourselves into thinking that adoption is the perfect solution for an imperfect society. Sure, we all say we know it isn’t perfect, but do we understand how truly flawed it is? How well do we consider the ones who get sent to abusive or unstable households and the ones who get sent back into the system because the AP’s couldn’t cut it? How well do we really consider the socio-economic factors that contribute to the number of children “languishing in the system?”
What these words say is, “We will raise them up from their lowly beginnings, give them something better, and it will last forever.” And that is inaccurate at best, deceptive at worst.
What assumptions does the use of permanent homes and forever families allow us to make about the adoptee’s origins? We can imagine abusive or neglectful parents, throw in some poverty for good measure and maybe even some drug abuse. Young, single mothers unable or unwilling to care for their newborns are always convenient scape goats and in the case of international adoption, third world countries that don’t have the means or inclination to care for its own.
It’s not that I deny such scenarios exist, but one must also ask why do they exist? In the case of domestic adoption, can more be done to keep families in tact? What roles do racism and class play in creating and perpetuating environments that feed children into system? Have we as a society become too reliant upon adoption as a solution because of lack of a better one?
And let us not forget that adoption is an industry regardless of it’s mutually beneficial appearance. As an industry, adoption has created as many or more problems as it has presumably solved. On one hand, it gives children to parents who want them, but on another, it feeds and sustains a voracious baby market. As potential adoptive parents seek cheaper, quicker ways to acquire children those only too willing to provide that without much thought to ethics will appear. Adoption as an industry will do what’s necessary to stay alive.
And this brings me to my point that words like forever and permanent threaten to narrow one’s perspective. It suggests the problem has been fixed when in fact it has not.
As a TRA, I view my circumstances with some degree of amusement as I consider what adoption has done to my sense of home and family. Without much choice, both have become transient in meaning, none being less significant than the other. Family is genetic ties that cannot be dismissed, adoptive parents who raised me and a few TRAs out there with whom I share an almost tangible bond.
My Vietnamese family, whoever they are, where ever they are will always be family despite what the use of forever family implies. As I’ve met and grown close to other adoptees, they have become a kind of extended family. Vietnam will always be back home in a sense. It is the place of my birth, where I came from and is no less temporary than the country where I now reside. Home and family aren’t reliant on proximity, place of residence or who provided what.
The funny thing is that while adoption attempts to define our sense of home and family, it inadvertently dismantles it at the same time. We are forced to expand and adjust our concepts on our own terms because of the contradictory nature of adoption. By suggesting permanence and forever, an unspoken contrast is whispered in our ears. As adoptees, we are being told that what came before was temporary and insignificant and that is only for us to decide.
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