In Your Time of Need

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I have a photo album filled with pictures of my son from the day we first met him in Korea. The pictures include his foster mother and my husband and I playing and holding him. To be expected, we are all smiling and filled with incredible joy on this happy day. Lately, however, when my son looks at these same photos; it triggers both confusion and sadness.

This week was a particularly hard grieving week for my son. He usually enjoys looking at his photo album, but on this particular day when he looked at the picture of himself playing with his yellow toy bus, he was completely inconsolable. He ran to the door, pointed to my car, and cried omma (mommy). Even though I read all the books related to adoption and grieving and have first hand experience as a transracial adoptee, I still wasn’t prepared for this. I was taken completely off guard. How do you explain to a grieving two year old that he can’t get in the car and see his foster mother? Or explain how his life in Korea had to end so he could begin his new life with me. I stumbled through my words fighting back my tears and eventually managed to explain that it’s okay to be sad. I reassured him that one day he will fly in an airplane to visit his omma and play with his bus. Now every time he sees or hears an airplane he looks at me with a huge grin and confidently says omma.

During the first few months after my son joined my family, he loved to sit on the arm chair of the couch looking out the window in the porch and watch the cars and buses drive by. I used to think this was because he is obsessed with vehicles, but now I wonder if he sat there hoping and waiting for his omma to return. Some days he clearly misses Korea and has deep memories like when he insists on wearing his favorite shirt that smells like his foster mother or when he opens the refrigerator door, points to the jar of gochujang and says omma with a wide happy smile. My heart breaks every time he says her name and the only words of comfort I can say is that she can’t be here, but she still loves and cares for him.

I understand that because my son is adopted he will experience tremendous grief and loss throughout different stages of his life. As he gets older, his grief will change and our conversations will become much more complicated to navigate. But I also know that no matter how much I comfort him in his time of need, I can’t take away his grief. It will always be. 


Thank You 고맙습니다


As I get closer to “Family Day,” I can’t stop replaying the dreadful scene of my son sobbing with confusion and grief when his foster mother puts him in my arms, says good bye, and I walk away from her. There is no way to prepare for this day. I’m trying to manage my expectations by accepting the fact that this will be an extremely traumatic experience for my son and an incredibly sad day for his foster family.

My son’s foster mother is an incredibly strong woman who for now fourteen months, out of a selfless act of love, chose to foster my son. She knows that as a foster mother, she may never have the opportunity to hold him or even see him again. I have a beautiful picture of my son with his foster mother where she is adoringly looking at him with intense pride and playful wonderment. I cry every time I look at this picture but I know that my grief is nothing compared to hers. While I’m busily enjoying my new mom life where now I am the one who gets to comfort him, celebrate his small triumphs, and watch him grow; she is on the other side of the world quietly grieving for a son whom she cared for and loved deeply. How can this be the only way?

Every six weeks I mail a care package to my son where I am able to include a half page note to his foster mother. Each letter gets increasingly more difficult to write as I get closer to “Family Day.” Are there even strong enough words to describe the incredible gratitude that I feel for her? Maybe all I need to say is simply, “Thank you.”



“Be prepared for travel to Korea within the next four to eight months.” When I first read the email, I felt queasy, anxious, and utterly excited because at that very moment, time felt like it was happening at warp speed. Once my panic settled and reality set in, I thought, “This is definitely happening and I’m not even close to being ready.”

In order to prepare parents for travel, my adoption agency gave me a 47 page handbook. The purpose of the packet is to provide suggestions on how to best prepare myself for meeting my son. One section provides expectations for the first meeting. It clearly states, “It’s hard not to cry at the first meeting, but try to do as little as possible to create loud noises and anxiety in the room for the child.” After waiting nearly five years to finally become a mother, rest assured, there will be tears. How will I feel on the day when I’m actually able to bring him home? This is the same day when his foster mother, who has loved and cared for him, says good bye and hands him over to me, a complete stranger. This should seemingly be a joyful day filled with happiness, yet my son will be experiencing an incredibly traumatic experience filled with confusion and loss.

As I begin to prepare for travel, the logistical preparations of what to pack, where to stay, and what to bring on a 14 hour flight are necessary, but feel entirely insignificant. Now my thoughts turn to bigger questions like, “How will my son respond to me the first time I hold him?” “Will his foster mother want to meet him again one day?” “How will I be able to comfort him when he is grieving for her?” I’m beginning to understand that it’s naive to think I can be fully prepared to parent. Maybe parenting is like the game Hide-and-Seek. My son is “It” and he turns and calls out, “Ready or not, mom here I come.” I have no other choice than to begin and hope that sooner than later I am able to find my way to home base.

Stubborn Gladness


During the time when I was struggling with my infertility, I also had to come to terms with the fact that even if we adopted, this would be my only child. I remember feeling unleashed with anxious nagging thoughts like, “Doesn’t he need a sibling to play with?” “Will he feel lonely?” “What will happen when I die and he has to face the burden of caring for me alone?” I know that these thoughts are based entirely on my own fears and assumptions of what I expected my family would look like. Even though, I can’t seem to shake my periodic pangs of regret.

I think family planning can be a life changing decision. I envy the parents who have the luxury to decide how many children will be in their family. In my case, life’s circumstances chose for me. Maybe I’m still struggling with the loss that I will have only one child. Isn’t that enough? Why don’t I feel more grateful? Shouldn’t I feel overwhelmed with joy that at least I get to be a parent?

One of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert, introduced me to the concept of holding on to the “stubborn gladness.” The idea was born from her favorite poem A Brief for the Defense written by Jack Gilbert. In one part of the poem he beautifully writes:

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight.

Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our

gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.

I love how this poem compels me to find a quiet space in the center of my disappointment and loss and to take hold of the wonder and the joy-the “stubborn gladness.”


5 Signs That A Middle Schooler Is Actually an Oversized Toddler


Do kids purposely tantrum to torture us? And when it happens, how do parents respond to the dreaded tantrum? Whether it happens in private or public, this definitely has to be one of the most unpleasant parts of parenting a toddler. Most recently, I’ve been paying close attention to kids and their tantrums. What I’ve noticed is that parents usually respond in either one of two ways: ignore the child or negotiate. According to the book The Whole-Brain Child, author Dr. Daniel Siegel writes there are two different types of tantrums. An upstairs tantrum is when the child decides to throw a fit. He suggests with this type of tantrum to use firm limits and appropriate consequences and eventually the child will find the tantrum is ineffective. The downstairs tantrum, however, is quite different. This tantrum is when the child is so completely upset that he is unable to use his upstairs brain to control his body or emotions. One strategy he recommends is to connect with the child in order to help him calm down by using empathy and a soothing tone and voice. Once the upstairs brain returns, the parent can respond to the issue by using logic and reason. This seems like a relatively easy approach, but is it as simple as it sounds? Maybe. As the start of the new school year quickly approaches, I can’t help but wonder that if Dr. Siegel is right and this technique is effective with a two year old, then could this also apply to my twelve year old middle school students?

Middle school teachers experience a fair amount of tantrums. I often joke with my colleagues that some days I feel like my students are just oversized toddlers. They whine when they don’t get their way, scream while running down hallways (is the school on fire?), and have recurrent mood swings where they are besties with a person one day and the next day are complete enemies. Are middle schoolers merely a super sized version of a toddler? Maybe a toddler and middle schooler have more in common than I actually think.

5 Signs That a Middle Schooler Is Actually an Oversized Toddler:

  1. Toddlers have unstoppable physical energy. They constantly run, kick, and jump. Walk down any middle school hallway and what do you observe? Twelve year olds who look like an awkward herd of octopuses with spindly limbs that sway erratically as they zip past you in rapid succession.
  2. Toddlers are picky eaters. Sometimes they may eat one or two preferred foods and nothing else. Middle schoolers binge eat one thing and one thing only: Takis.
  3. Toddlers can be happy and friendly one minute and the next moment cry for no apparent reason. Middle schoolers have frequent mood swings. One day they adore you and emphatically declare, “You are my favorite teacher!” Followed by the next day where you are treated like a complete stranger and they can barely manage to lip sync a civilized “Hello.”
  4. Toddlers love to dance and move to music as a way to socialize. As one student recently admitted to me, “I used to dance. Now I just twerk.”
  5. Toddlers have the idea that adults should do things for them on demand. Similar to toddlers, middle schoolers can also act like complete tyrants. They earnestly believe that using the bathroom pass, getting a drink of water, or going to their locker needs to be done at that immediate second and if not given permission, the world may come to a catastrophic end.

I am certain that these untimely and tiresome tantrums are often unavoidable. Undoubtedly, my son will repeatedly challenge me with his tantrums and eventually reveal my worst possible self. But maybe throughout this messy and complicated parenting process, I learn how to be a more loving, patient, and empathetic person. And if this is the case, then I likely have a great deal of learning (and tantrums) ahead of me.  


Maritime Livin’

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We recently returned from an exciting and adventurous ten day vacation where we ate and drank our way through the Washington coast. The trip was a lovely balance of visiting with friends, hiking in national parks, and experiencing the maritime culture. Many times throughout the trip, I was constantly reminded how this is most likely our last kid free vacation before we meet our son.

My first reminder was when we arrived at the airport. I witnessed a mom who had to WWE wrestle her screaming daughter to free her panda backpack in order to get through the security line. Another time is when I breathlessly hiked up a hill in the Olympic National Park thinking, “There’s no way a toddler could possibly do this. As an adult, I can barely manage.” I look up and of course there’s a mom who walks past me with her top heavy backpack filled with camping gear with her toddler strapped in the Ergobaby carrier and I think to myself, “Yes, it is possible. But how is that any fun?” Or the time at dinner when I realized while devouring my delicious hamachi crudo and casually sipping my Oregon chardonnay that I need to enjoy this because these days are dangerously numbered.

I am certain that it is completely unrealistic and maybe even a bit naive to consider vacation travel with a toddler. How does it feel to be a parent on a three hour flight with a screaming active two year old? I don’t envy you. There’s the constant negotiation of snacks, the thrown toys, and any novel distraction you can imagine just to get you through the flight. Then when you finally arrive, how much beach time can you actually enjoy around nap time, sand throwing, and cooking dinner? How is this possibly a vacation?

I imagine that once I have a family, the vacationing will look dramatically different from our latest trip. There will be no more sleeping in at the dreamy Airbnb, the late night maritime debauchery with college friends will be limited, and a simple event like packing to go to the beach may turn into an epic production. However, I’m ready to trade all this in because I know that once I walk through the arrival gate with my son in tow, there’s a delightful and bittersweet, a magical and familiar, a lifetime of adventures that awaits us.

Gains and Losses

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When we initially started the adoption process, my assumption was that we would adopt an infant close to the age of six months similar in age as when I was adopted. I clearly recall the adoption meeting when the presenter confidently explained, “Most children will be the ages of two and a half by the time the adoption is finalized.” I turned to my husband and barely managed to stutter, “But wait. Isn’t that a todd-ddd-ler?!”

Although I’m completely humbled and beyond grateful to become a parent, I can’t help but fantasize about the missed baby moments. I wonder what he sounds like when he cries. How does he prefer to be comforted? What was his wobbly first steps like? Now he’s beginning the toddler stage where he’s walking, saying omma (mommy) and becoming more independent. It’s been incredibly difficult not to be there to share in these huge moments of his young life. As I patiently wait to meet my son, I realize adoption is an inevitable and complex series of gains and losses.

This week my son celebrated his first birthday (called Dol) which is a significant milestone in Korea. The children wear a traditional Hanbok and a hat. The highlight of the celebration is where the child is placed in front of a table with objects. It is believed that whatever object is chosen, this will signify his future occupation. Then there’s the usual eating and celebrating. Although I enjoyed looking at the wonderful pictures, I still felt an overwhelming sadness because I wasn’t able to be there to share in his excitement and happiness.

My son will also experience loss. Even though he will gain a family who loves and adores him, he will lose his connection to his birth mother, his Korean culture, and race through adoption. He will wonder why his birth mother gave him up for adoption, question his identity, and more than likely internalize a number of different emotions that comes with grief and loss.

Maybe life is a continuous ebb and flow of gains and losses. It’s easy to be present when there are joyful and happy moments. But it’s when the losses are big and chaotic and the spaces feel too loud is when I want to run. I don’t know the losses that my son will experience, but what is certain is that I will be present for it all.

CTFD and Other Parenting Advice


Is it possible to suffer from parenting guidebook reading fatigue? If so, I think I’ve hit the mark. The other day, just out of curiosity, I typed “parenting” at Amazon, and my search returned 193,691 books. It’s no wonder why I’m feeling fatigued and rightfully anxious about what I should be reading. It seems like everyone has authored a parenting book from doctors to teachers to celebrities. Even tough love, moral authority ‘Papa Bear’ Bill O’Reilly has written a parenting book, The O’Reilly Factor for Kids: A Survival Guide for America’s Families. But what does one author say about parenting that is any different from the other thousands of parenting book authors? This is perplexing.

To understand this better, I spent some time perusing the titles of some of Amazon’s parenting best sellers. Here are just a few: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Scream Free Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool, and my personal favorite, David Vienna’s 2013 international bestseller, Calm the F**ck Down. The Only Parenting Technique You’ll Ever Need. Based on these titles alone, as an outsider, it seems to be that parenting involves a considerable amount of talking and screaming. Is parenting a continuum of emergency crises where everyone is barely maintaining survival?

Lately, I’ve been collecting anecdotal parenting research from my friends and family. And just like the enormous swath of parenting guidebooks, there’s also a diverse range of advice about how to parent. Some suggest the more ambiguous like: “You’ll figure it out as you go.” “There’s really no right or wrong way to do it” (I guess it’s not like learning how to tie your shoes). “What works for me, may not work for you.” To the more definitive advice like: “You definitely need baby wipes in the car 24/7.” “Don’t get into a snacking war with a toddler in public because it will be complete hell.”  “A car seat? We don’t really use one now that he’s a toddler.” Wait. What?!

Moments later, after becoming completely unhinged and remembering to calm myself down by doing yoga breathing, I started to wonder if parenting isn’t really any different from any other relationship. Is it as simple as children want to feel loved, respected, and supported? At the end of the day maybe all parents have the similar desire which is to raise happy, healthy autonomous children and according to one friend who confidently said, “But what’s singularly different is how you get there.”

In the meantime, I’m quietly continuing to read in order to prepare myself for parenting. And on those especially challenging days; maybe the only parenting advice I need is from David Vienna who simply says, “You need to CTFD (calm the f**ck down).”

Here are a few seminal parenting/adoption books that have resonated with me:

  1. The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis & David Cross
  2. The Whole- Brain Child by Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson
  3. Adopting After Infertility by Patricia Irwin Johnston

What are your book recommendations?  Please share.

Patience Is a Virtue (sometimes)

“Good things come to those who wait,” “Slow and steady wins the race, “Haste makes waste,”“A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.” We can all quote by memory these annoying platitudes about patience (okay, maybe not that last one). When I was younger, I sang regularly in my church choir where we did a number of performances. However, one performance has vividly stuck with me even thirty years later. I can still recall and sing the lyrics to one song sung by Herbert the singing snail: Have patience//have patience//don’t be in such a hurry// when you get impatient you only start to worry//Remember, remember, that God is patient, too//and think of all the the times when others have to wait for you//

I don’t think that I’m a particularly patient person. I’ve been known to walk quickly in front of the elderly and children in strollers in order to get to the door before them. I have a horribly low tolerance for drivers. If a driver doesn’t go within two seconds of the traffic light turning green, they will definitely get a honk.  And on more than one occasion, I’ve said to my middle school students, “I can’t talk to you right now,” and quickly walked away. It seems like since the womb we’ve been instructed by our parents, teachers, and everyone around us that patience is an expected behavior. You often hear parents say, “Wait your turn, wait until we eat, wait until you are spoken to.” But what happens when you don’t want to wait? When patience is a virtue only sometimes.

Most recently, my patience has been exceedingly tested with our journey to become parents. My husband and I have been waiting to be parents since 2012. We knew that we wanted to have children and immediately started planning our family right after we were married. After four years of trying to get pregnant by completing fertility testing, two failed attempts of IUI and countless fertility acupuncture appointments; we made the decision to adopt. We are a year into the adoption process and now again we are waiting, but this time we are waiting to meet our toddler Korean son. We don’t have any other choice but to wait. But patiently wait? I’m not so sure. What does that look like anyway? Is patience lying in bed with tears welling up in your eyes quietly counting off the days and months until you finally get to meet him for the first time. Or maybe it’s giving yourself permission to walk through the toddler clothing section and letting the fabric run through your hands while imagining his tiny body in the I heart Minneapolis t-shirt. And even, maybe, patience is like the day when you silently surrender to the idea of writing a blog in order to keep your mind occupied and your heart from going wildly insane.

Do good things come to those who wait? Maybe. But I can say with certainty that within the next year, I’ll more than likely be repeating these same words to my two year old: “Please wait your turn, or wait until we eat.” And then if I’m lucky enough and if I’m listening closely; he’ll be the one teaching me how to be patient just like Herbert the singing snail.