A Common Sense Letter by Kay Bratt

Written by Kay on . Posted in Adoption Stories

Dear family, friends and nosy strangers to interracial families,

Since my experiences with China and adoption, I have learned so much and I want to share some of my newly acquired wisdom with you. It is my hopes that this letter will serve as a crash course in proper etiquette when communicating with a diverse family. Adoption in itself is a miracle—a way to unite a loving child with people who have a desire to build their family in ways other than or in addition to biological means. Please don’t ruin their joy with your rude comments and intrusive behaviors. Don’t allow racist comments to slip out of your loose mouth—words can hurt and children have feelings, too. Give the family what they need—space, privacy and respect. I know that your curiosity is driving you mad, so let’s discuss some of the most common questions and comments that you should never verbalize to an adoptive parent.

How much did they cost? Absolutely nothing—didn’t you know trafficking is illegal and no one can buy another human being? If you are interested in adoption and are wondering if you can afford to embark on the amazing journey, any adoption agency on the worldwide web can discuss with you the fees related to the process.

Can she speak Chinese? Considering many international adoptions are finalized before children learn the art of verbal communication, do you really think it is possible that she can speak a foreign language?  However, when she is old enough, if she expresses interest in learning the language of her homeland, then we may consider a private tutor. Why—is there someone you can recommend?

Can she speak English? Don’t your children speak English? I know—why don’t you ask her yourself? (And believe it or not, they can also handle a fork and only use chopsticks for fun!)

What are they? Alright, Einstein, do I really need to point out to you that they are children? How insensitive and if I ever hear someone ask that question, they should be prepared to receive a tongue lashing.

Is it true that the Chinese people do not want baby girls and the orphanages are full of them?  Oh—are you interested in the subject of child abandonment and institutional statistics? I wish they could help but as you see, they are busy spending time with their family. Feel free to check your local library for some research material. The point here is, don’t spread slander and stereotypes—especially in front of children.

Sometimes families include more than one adopted child—when you see two children in the group that are the same race, please don’t ask, “Are they REAL sisters?”  Yes, they are real sisters and those are real parents living a real house and they should really not be forced to have this conversation. Move on, please.

And of course, the all familiar question of, “Do you know who their REAL parents are?” If you are crude enough to ask this question, I hope you get this answer: “Yes—we are their real parents. If you are referring to their biological parents, that sort of information is personal and any details we know would be up to them to share when and if they desire to.”

Another real question that should never leave your lips is, “Are their real parents dead?” Again, the people who they call mom and dad are their real parents and you should know better than to ask a question that is so personal (or can cause immense emotional turmoil) such as the subject of biological parents or death. 

Please do not ask an adoptive parent, “How many of your own do you have?” All of their children are their own—they are not separated by categories of who birthed them.

If you work in a medical setting and a parent comes in with their child of a different race than they are, please do not ask for more proof of guardianship than you would any other child—that is insulting and discriminatory.  Haven’t you ever heard of adoption? Obviously the medical card or information presented should be enough and the parents should not be made to go through an inquisition to receive medical attention for their children. That goes for immigration control as well—why should they have to present more proof of guardianship for their adopted child than they do for their bio child?  

Do not—I repeat do not—grab the hand of a child and assume they are lost just because they do not ‘look like’ the people they are standing near. You may just find yourself on the wrong side of goodness when you are being arrested for attempted kidnapping. Of course, we all want to help a child who cannot find their parents but use the context clues—is she standing near a woman and calling her mommy?   Does she look distressed or lost? If not—back off, people.

Why didn’t you adopt from your own country? This is a totally out-of-bounds question and there is no way to present it in a way that is acceptable. Be prepared to answer why YOU didn’t adopt from YOUR own country, because that question should go both ways. Parents choose international adoption for many reasons but the most common thread is that they were people who wanted a child—and their child was in need of a family.  The birth country is completely irrelevant, though some people may have reasons to why they chose China, India, Russia, etc, to start their search. Those reasons are none of your business.  If you are interested in learning the pros and cons of domestic vs. international adoption, you can find many websites that can enlighten you.

Don’t approach and exclaim, “Oh my, she is so cute! I want one!” Like any parent, a compliment given about their child is appreciated, but please don’t act like they are a floppy-eared Golden Retriever or the latest style in purses.  They are not an accessory or status symbol—it is a child, most importantly—it is their child. What would you say if I ran up to you and your children and bellowed out the same comment? You would think I was crazy—right?

Please, please, please do not tell a parent who has an adoptive child, “Oh, they are so lucky that you adopted them.”  I have corresponded with hundreds of parents and the most common sentiment they admit to me is that they are the lucky ones to have been blessed with such amazing children. Also, these parents did not go out of their way to ‘save’ a child and that term is offensive—please don’t use it.

On that note, do not tell a child, “Oh, you are so precious; I think I’ll just take you home with me.”  Or “Oh, you are so precious; can I be your new Mommy?” You have no idea if the child has had attachment issues or possibly still remember their abandonment, or recalls being placed with strangers away from those who love them.  A comment like that may bring back a flood of painful memories or plant a bundle of new fears in the mind of a child. What is said in a few seconds could take years to forget. You can just leave it at “Oh, you are so precious.” Enough said.

And no—sorry to burst your bubble but just because their children are Asian, does not mean they are math wizards or science geeks.  Just like your children, they are born with different gifts and talents and as they grow, those are still being determined.  However, by the time they are grown, I’m sure they will be geniuses in the subject of how rude it is to stereotype people according to their genetics.

Don’t be surprised if when you are dumb enough to ask an inappropriate question, you see a mom suddenly grow horns or bare fangs.  Despite our ingrained rules of politeness and minding our manners, our instinct to protect our children is stronger. When a mother senses their children are going to suffer emotionally because of thoughtless words from a stranger—she is going to do what needs to be done and shut you down.

Not all parents are opposed to answering questions about adoption or their children— you may just happen to find a parent or child that really loves to talk about their adoption story. If that happens, count your blessings. First be sure you feel a welcoming atmosphere before you approach a family, and then if you are sure you can pull out your can of common sense and put it to use—keep your comments or questions to a minimum. Ask yourself how would you feel if the tables were turned and a stranger walked up to you and asked personal questions about your children’s lives? The safest route is to let them guide the conversation to what they feel comfortable discussing.

In closing, you may wonder exactly what would be appropriate to say to an adoptive mom or dad when you just want to show your support of their choice to adopt and your admiration for their handsome family. Here are a few appropriate words to use when approaching an interracial family:

“Your family is beautiful and so well-behaved!” (We all love to hear that comment, obviously!)

 “I have a grand-daughter that looks just like her!” (Only if it is true, of course, and can be a way to test the waters to see if they are open to talking about adoption.)

“Did you create your family through adoption?”  (Again, be alert for clues if they do not want to engage in adoption conversation and if you do feel welcome, keep the questions on the non-personal side.)

A good rule of thumb would be to remember that these people—just like you—are very busy and each time they venture out together it is valued family time. If they have not shown that they want to be spokespeople for adoption, let them finish their meal, activity or event without being interviewed, stared at, or whispered about.  You will find that families from the international adoption community are usually patient, kind and willing to communicate about their story— if it is an appropriate time and place, and if you understand that there are some details and information that will not be shared under any circumstances.  Remember, they have moved mountains to get their children—so let them enjoy the rewards of parenthood.

Thank you to the members of the International Adoption Community who gave me the research material for this piece! Your patience with the rest of the world is duly noted—Kay Bratt.

From the Heart of An Adoptive Father

Written by Kay on . Posted in Adoption Stories

Before The Dawn

It’s early in the morning
Two hours before the light
I look around to see who’s there
No one is in sight.

I set both baskets by the gate
Kneeling to the ground
Tying my shoe, I say good-bye
I know you will be found.

Standing up I look once more
Up and down the street
My hand picks up one basket
The task is now complete.

Please don’t cry my darling
Let me walk away
My heart remains there with you
Until my dying day.

Tom Fisher
© October 20, 2005

A Small Seed Planted

Written by Kay on . Posted in Adoption Stories

I love the story I found at Amy’s blog.

Day 20 – A little seed…

I vividly remember the exact moment I knew I wanted to adopt a baby girl. I was eight years old. I was at a friend’s birthday slumber party and we watched the movie Annie…over and over again. I never really thought about what this little girl would look like until I was in college. I learned about the precious baby girls in China that were (and still are) being abandon on the side of the road. It broke my heart. I knew at that moment, my daughter would be Asian and come from an orphanage.

Fast forward a few years. When hubby and I started our first adoption, we quickly discovered that we were WAY too young for the China program (minimum age limit of 30) :o) Haha! The only other Asian program open at that time was Korea. After much prayer, we decided to start the paperwork for a daughter from Korea. Things never seemed quite right. I don’t know if it was the fact that the babies come from foster care (which is usually a huge plus for adoptive parents) rather than an orphanage or something else. In fact, it was something else…OUR daughter was not in Korea. Rumors started circulating that a Vietnam program was opening soon. We both KNEW in our hearts that our daughter was in Vietnam. We waited for the okay from our agency and we switched all of our paperwork from the Korea to Vietnam.

I know I am rambling, but there is a point to all of this :o) Several months after we switched to the Vietnam program, our caseworker called and told us that we had been matched with a two week old baby girl in Vietnam. We were over the moon excited! We drove to our agency’s office and our social worker told us the very limited information they had about this baby girl (our Sophie Le). We thought it was very special that this little girl shared a birthday with my grandmother (who passed away 10 years earlier)…October 24.

October 24. A special connection.

Earlier this week, I was looking around on Facebook and I found that friend that I spent the night with when I was eight years old. As I mentioned before, it was a birthday slumber party. My eyes glanced over her information and what I saw blew me away!

My childhood friend’s birthday…October 24th.

Exactly twenty years to the day before MY daughter
was born in Southern Vietnam,
God planted a seed in my heart.

Meet Jenny K…

Written by Kay on . Posted in Adoption Stories

In Jenny’s words:

People believed I had the perfect life, and perhaps for a while, I did too. I was afforded the luxury of staying at home to care for my family. I spent my days doing what I loved; cooking, cleaning and organizing life for each of my precious three children and my husband. They call it The American Dream; gorgeous house, ten acres of land, three vehicles, a boat and even a family lake house. It all seemed so right yet was so wrong; something was missing and no matter what toys we obtained, we weren’t satisfied.

I really felt God speaking to me and causing me to not forget a childhood dream of adopting a little girl from Asia. In 2005, we began the adoption process and the long wait to bring Lily home from China and finally traveled there in 2006. Our intention was to take her away from China and bring her to a place where we could make her safe and loved for the rest of her life. We weren’t planning on falling in love with her country, but we did. Two weeks after walking through the halls of her orphanage, I was left with memories of children’s faces that clung to me even in my dreams. Little did I know that God was preparing me for the biggest change in my life, one I’d never thought of or planned for.

After six years of owning his own business, my husband, David, also started to wonder if there was more to life than climbing the social ladder and building his portfolio. Once we discovered we were both on the same page, it should have been easy to make the next decision but honestly, it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done.

After weeks of prayer and contemplation, we decided to give up our American Dream and move to China to live a much simpler life. We didn’t want our children growing up to believe that material things and money were the ultimate goal; we wanted them to see us stand up and do something we believed in. So both houses went up for sale and we were lucky in this recession to sell one of them. (The other we hope to close in a few weeks time) We sold some things and put the rest in storage. We sold two of our cars, leaving one for our daughter to drive when she comes back for college. We were on a mission to change our lives but it was so hard! The closer moving day came, the more I cried. It wasn’t about our ‘things’ or the hardship we might have to bear, it was leaving those I loved. I wanted them all to come with me!

The departure day loomed closer and because we were leaving much sooner than we had originally planned, we were very busy unwinding the business, packing last-minute items and basically wrapping up our current lives in a tidy bow so we could move on. We barely slept the week before take-off, we just moved through each day getting as much done as possible and then spent our nights tossing and turning, hoping we were doing the right thing for our four children. The night before we got on the plane, there was not even an attempt to sleep and that is the closest I’ve ever come to losing it all together, as my tired nerves had finally gotten the best of me.

So after a harrowing last few weeks and exhaustion beyond anything I’ve ever known, on October 1, 2008, we were officially residents of China. Now, in our second year, I don’t regret our decision. There are many things I miss about the USA. Of course, not being able to visit with my family and friends was the hardest thing to give up. I had a dream last week about shopping in Target—actually, I wasn’t really shopping but reading all of the labels because I COULD! I miss the conveniences like having a clothes dryer, dishwasher, owning a vehicle, having a conversation while standing in line at the grocery store, clean air, blue sky, breakfast cereal, spray butter, decent haircuts, books, and the list goes on and on. Living in the country of great conveniences all my life falsely set me up to expect those extravagances, but I am learning to do without. We no longer live in a big house or have all of the things we once thought we couldn’t live without. All six of us are now squeezed into a small apartment and we don’t have television except for the occasional dvd that we watch together as a family. We share two only barely-working bathrooms, one with a laughable shower in the middle of the ceiling; and the funniest part about it is that I love this life. Our family has grown closer; we can no longer separate to our own spaces in a large home and live separate lives. We spend our free time taking walks, playing games and just being a family—even working together to schedule shower times! That is probably the biggest gift of living here—seeing all of us become a real family once again.

Here in this country, you finally know the difference in what you want versus what you need, and living the simpler life here makes it not so hard to find the essentials. I do most of my shopping at the market and we have a small store we find toilet paper and other essentials. We don’t frequent the huge chain stores often because we prefer to spend our money here in the neighborhood to help the small shopkeepers, or we’re too tired to walk the extra mile.

Probably the biggest obstacle for me is the language barrier. There is so much I’d like to say to people, so many questions I want to ask them! I want to read labels again and feel like I know exactly what I am buying. The other hard issue is the pollution. I knew that China was polluted from the news, but living here it still astounds me how much pollution exists. It is constantly on my mind because the air is so thick on most days that it looks like fog. Cars are filthy from it and the taxis are constantly washing the “dirt” off of their cars. Last summer we only had a few truly blue sky days and the rest of them were whitish, or worse. We thought we were prepared for it, but were shocked at how much harder it would be for me to cope with my asthma in such conditions.

David now works for LDi, a non-profit company, which trains national businessmen in the areas of integrity and team-building (www.ldichina.com), and is involved in our local fellowship. Last year I taught middle school math but this year I substitute teach at the international school to help pay the bills while I participate in what I feel is one of the most treasured gifts of my life; volunteering at the local orphanage. It is there that I am able to use my gifts of nurturing and organizing; in order to make a difference one little life at a time.

I work with International Committee for Chinese Orphans. It consists of a committee of mostly expats that volunteer to spend time with the children, arrange for medical care, and raise money for paying 57 ayis (aunties or helpers), special formula, medical care, physical therapists, and educational materials. The program has been in our children’s welfare institute for 10+ years and has made a huge difference in the care of the children. The Children’s Welfare Institute has about 95% disabled children ranging with mild special needs to the most severe. We try to help all of the children, not just the adoptable kids. So, many of the kids we provide physical therapy or a teacher for will not be adopted, but will live in an institution their entire lives. But, we feel it’s important for us to advocate for all of the children no matter what their disability is. You can see more about who we are at www.tjicco.org

The Children’s Welfare Institute is a beautiful facility; all remodeled with brightly painted rooms and manicured lawns. Some of the children are treated very well although some are neglected. The real tragedy is that the kids many times don’t get the medical assistance they need while they are young enough and then by the time they see a doctor, their medical condition is so complicated that their life is altered forever. It seems that some conditions are ignored or the doctor will say the child has to wait until age two for surgery. Then, when they are two it is too late. There are so many children. I feel that most of the staff does their best but many kids fall through the cracks.

I love all of the kids and I don’t gravitate towards a specific age or condition. I have a few, of course, that I adore; a PKU toddler with a terrific smile, a 4 year old with a life-threatening heart condition, a 1-year- old who is both deaf and blind, a 2-year-old that is dying of cancer, and an 11-year-old dear girl who has the kindest smile and who I desperately want to be adopted.

Outside of our city, there is a village where most of the homes are foster homes with approximately 300 kids living there. They are starting a school and a therapy center there and need our help with funding the teachers and therapists. All of the children have disabilities ranging from cleft lip/palate to cerebral palsy.

We do see some of the children being adopted and I’ve had the privilege of telling a few kids that they are getting a family and I’ve experienced the joy of delivering packages to them from their “forever families.” I consider this one of the best perks to my volunteer job.

So to wrap it up, I am lucky to be living a life I never dreamed of. I never expected to be living here nor would I have thought I wanted to live here. It doesn’t include a big house or fancy cars—and we don’t have all the latest gadgets and frivolous things we once had, but that is part of the gift of it all. We are now actually living life—not watching it fly by.

*Kay says: I met Jenny online when she wrote to tell me that reading my book was like reading her life story. With that being said, I can attest that she probably left out a whole lot about some of the hardships of her current life. I told her I’d like to send her a care package—as I remember how precious each and every package from home was to us while we were living in China. If you’d like to send her and the family a bundle of encouragement, here are some details I was able to finally squeeze out of her!

Jenny and David’s kids: Kelly, 17 (senior), Matt, 16 (sophomore), John, 10 (5th grade), Lily, 4 ½ (Junior Kindergarten)

Items they miss: Books! (Jenny likes historical fiction, faith-building and subjects on children’s issues)(David likes science and economic magazines)

Wish Lists:
Jenny misses French vanilla creamer, chili mix (powder), ground coffee, cheese-its, bath and body hand sanitizer that smells so good, and soup mixes. The kids love beef jerky, chex mix, books, chocolate, magazines, and Lily likes the Bratz dolls but doesn’t have any yet.Hubby likes science and economic magazines, beef jerky, roasted flaxseeds and raw almonds.

Items can be mailed to:

Tianjin International School
c/o Jenny Kuritar
1 Meiyuan Road
Huayuan Industrial Garden
Nankai District
Tianjin, China 300384