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Archive for August, 2011

I opened my eyes and I remembered I was in USA. I felt anxious and alone in the new enviroment. I wanted to cry but I was a big girl so I have chosen not to cry. The cloths on my bed showed me the yellow-haired woman had been in my room while I was sleeping. The yellow-haired woman came in, showed me the cloths and without saying a word, left the room. I got dressed quickly by fear of being seen by her, then I felt alone again.

The yellow-haired woman came back and brought me in front of the mirror. Unlike the previous day, she was silent. She wanted to brush my hair but I stiffened. I didn’t want my hair be brushed by this stranger. She had many items and trinkets to give me. I only remember few of them. It happened in silence: she would show me an item and I would nod or shake my head. The silence was embarrasing; I thought the American woman was shy as I was.

She showed me a ring; I nodded, she put it on my finger. She showed me a trinket, I nodded, and she gave it to me. She showed me earrings; I realized with horror that her ears were pierced. I shook my head and I thought the Americans were barbaric. I felt anxious, I missed home and I wanted to go back fast but the woman showed me a watch. I nodded and she put it on my wrist. I thought, “Americans are so rich that they can offer a watch to kids.” I never thought I could have a watch as a child. I felt I could like this American. I wasn’t interested by any other item that she showed me but I continued to nod without paying attention to her…

After giving me the last object, the American woman showed herself and said, “Mommy”. She repeated again, “Mommy? hm?” I understood by her body language that I had to call her Mommy. I nodded. She seemed very happy. She called me Kim-Kimmi. At the end of the day, when her fat husband came back, she showed him and said, “Daddy”. I nodded again.

That’s how I began to call two strangers mommy and daddy.

I would talk to them in Korean after I became less shy with them. I never called them “eomma” and “appa” which respectively mean mom and dad in Korean. I would call them by the Korean terms equivalent to Mrs and Mr. I don’t remember how to say the Korean words as my eomma’s and appa’s culture became a foreign culture and my mother tongue became a foreign language.

While I was being emptied of everything Korean and filled with everything American/Canadian unbeknown to me, I continued to call them mommy and daddy, until they brought me to Canada, their homeland, where they asked me to call them “maman” and “papa”.

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The “Gotcha Day” as I remember

I recognized the American couple that I had seen on a photo.

Many weeks earlier, I was told by the social worker who gave me the photo that the couple would be my new American parents. My thought then had been: “The American woman is well-dressed and pretty but she doesn’t look like a mom; she wears too much of make-up like a woman of bad life. The American man can’t be a father, he is too fat.”

I was having the same thought in front of them when the yellow-haired woman grabbed me. She hugged me, she touched my face and my arms, she took me in her arms, and then she touched my hair, my arms and everywhere, while talking non stop in their strange language.

Meanwhile, the babies who had traveled with me were given to the other Americans — one baby for each couple. It was very noisy. The babies were crying. Adults were crying, laughing and talking aloud. The yellow-haired woman continued to hug me and kiss me, calling me by a new name, Kimmi. I was totally disgusted by her lips on my cheeks and I hated her smell and her perfume. I grimaced and discretely wiped my cheeks with my hand when I had a chance. The room became quiet after other Americans left with the babies.

The fat American man lifted me up and put me on a bar stool, and then he also left the room. The yellow-haired American touched me again while talking to other men at the bar. They were all staring at me. I heard them saying “cute” and “pretty”. I felt embarrassed and uneasy. I took a few sips of a Seven-Up — the first soft drink in my life — to avoid their gaze. I almost burped, I found the tingling sensation in my nose funny, and I pinched my nose several times. I realized the men were still staring at me. I knew they were all talking about me.

I looked around me while they were busy talking. I felt like I was dreaming. The fat man came back and said something to his yellow-haired wife. He seemed very nervous. I sensed their panic. The yellow-haired woman took my hand and started running forcing me to run myself. She ran so fast that I had difficulty following her.

She suddenly stopped in front of a door. Inside the room were several doors. She took out a coin from her purse and inserted it in a slot of a door. The door opened… to an American style toilet! I thought, “Americans are crazy, they have to pay to pee! Americans are rich!”

The yellow-haired woman brought me in the toilet cabin and peed in front of me. I blushed. I had never seen a naked adult in my life before, not even my own parents. I turned my head toward the door but driven by curiosity, I cast a quick glance at her. The poor American was hairy as a monkey! I thought, “She must have often cried and laughed at the same time. Oh no! I too have laughed and cried many times. I don’t want to become like a monkey!” [My brother would always make me laugh whenever he saw me crying, and then he would say, “Myung-Sook, if you cry and laugh at the same time, hair will grow on your bottocks like monkeys.”]
Using a body language and making a noise with her mouth like a monkey, the American woman told me it was my turn to pee. I shook my head, because I didn’t want to pee in front of a stranger.

We met the fat man again. They gave me a pink teddy bear and the woman clothed me in a snowsuit. I had never seen such a toy and such cloth before. To hide my shyness and my distress, I took off my identification bracelets and put them on the teddy bear’s arms, and then I looked at it and held it tight. The yellow-haired woman said, “Pierrot”. I understood it was its name — a strange name.

It was dark and cold outside. I felt alone with the two strangers in this amazing place. The Americans made me sit between them in a taxi. The yellow-haired woman kissed me non stop on my cheek. I felt like my cheek was all wet. I wiped my cheek discreetly with my hand from time to time. Her smell mingled with that of her perfume was nauseous. I was too shy to show my disgust… To make things worse, I needed to pee… I couldn’t wait any longer! I made them understand by moving like all children know how to in such case. The yellow-haired woman asked the driver to stop. While I was peeing on the edge of the road, she stayed annoyingly near me as if I was her dog.

Next thing I remember is being in another smaller and empty plane, sitting between them again. There were only two stewardesses in the plane. The yellow-haired women talked to them non stop, such that the stewardesses couldn’t say a word. One of them told me “cute, cute” from time to time as if I was a little baby. The other left us and came back with a pin [Eastern airline pin] and gave it to me. As usual, the fat American man stayed quiet. I thought he must be shy as I was…

After landing, we were in a huge indoor parking garage (which I’d never seen before). I thought Americans must be very very rich to own a car. While the fat man was looking for his car, the yellow-haired woman picked up a public phone and started talking loudly with excitement. I had time to cast a look in her purse and saw many compartments filled with coins. I thought “My American parents must be rich”. [I must have hallucinated, as when I opened it a few days later, there was no such compartment in her purse. However, there were many coins in it.]

We arrived at their house. A red-haired old American woman was waiting us [She was one of the employees working at their business]. I understood her name was Nanny. The yellow-haired woman started talking to Nanny. Whenever Nanny had the chance to say something, she would look at me and say: “…cute” or “…pretty” in the same voice that adults usually take when they talk to babies. I then understood what cute and pretty meant. Despite my fatigue, I noticed how the house was huge. I felt like I was dreaming but I knew it was for real. [I didn’t know enough words to describe how I felt then, but today with the words I know, I can say that I felt like I was in another planet or in a science fiction movie.]
They told me, “…tired… tired…” The yellow-haired women took me to my bedroom. I had never seen such room, bigger than all the rooms where I’ve lived with my family, all decorated and with beautiful furniture. I thought: “I’m a princess.” The woman gave me a pajamas. I didn’t want to undress in front of her, as I was a big girl. Fortunately, the woman understood me despite my silence and she left the room.

After lying on the bed, I thought how I would be sleeping alone for the first time of my life because in Korea, a family of 7 to 10 persons would sleep in such room. I felt very alone and anxious, but I preferred to think that I’d be living like a princess in this country of fairy tales called the USA; I’d be spoiled by my new American parents and I’d meet my friends who had came to the USA before me before going back to Korea.

The “Gotcha Day” as told by my adoptive mother

My mother died 11 years ago, but I’ve heard her recounting the “Gotcha Day” numerous times ever since I learned to speak her language up to the time of her death. The following is as she would tell it(translated from French).

When I received your photo, I thought you were a boy because of your shaved head. I called them and told them: “I don’t want a boy; I want a girl.” When they told me you were a girl, I became attached to you instantly, I loved you and I waited for you. I was eager to see you every day. I was hoping to see you before your birthday; I wanted to throw a big party for your birthday. You finally came on December 2. I’d asked Santa Claus to give me a living doll as a Christmas gift. You are my Christmas gift, my living doll.

[Talking to others]: We were given a VIP room. Everyone was excited and talking at the same time. It was noisy. We were like crazy while waiting for our children. What’s amazing is that all the parents recognized their babies of a few months old that they’d seen only in pictures, while they looked all the same to me with their slanted eyes. I felt the pain of childbirth when I saw my daughter. It seems that many women feel the pain of childbirth at the arrival of their adopted children. Other parents started crying as soon as they got their babies in their arms like any parent would after giving birth. Adopting a child is no different than giving birth. You love them as much as you love your biological children, and even more[…] Immigration said there was a problem. They had to send my daughter back to Korea because we did not have U.S. citizenship. We were going to lose our minds at the idea of losing her. Leo left us at the bar and went to plead our case.

You were so cute. You took a few sips of Seven Up and pinched your nose. Everyone at the bar was looking at you. One man told me that you were so pretty that he would marry you. I became angry at him and I told him, “I just got her! Give me a chance to enjoy her for few years!”
Your father came back and he told me, “Take the little one and run! Go hide! Run fast!” He has obtained a one-year visa for humanitarian consideration, but he was still afraid to lose you. We didn’t want to lose you. We were like crazy, I ran and went to hide in the restroom. […] You refused to pee. While we were in the cab heading to another airport, you showed me you needed to pee, you were adorable, so we had to pull over.
Your father was so nervous that he couldn’t remember where he had parked his car. I called mom while he was searching for the car. I told her, “Mom, we got the little one, we got the little one!” Mom cried. She told me later that she cried at every birth of her grandchildren; she felt the same emotions as when her other grandchildren were born.

[Talking to others]: Mom accepted my daughter as her real granddaughter; she never made a distinction between her and the other grandchildren. She told me once that my niece Julie and my daughter were the youngest of the family and she’ll soon add them to the family tree.

What “Gotcha Day” means to my adoptive parents

As a French speaking person, my mother would use the equivalent French terms “Le jour que je t’ai eue” (the day I got you) when talking to me or “Le jour que je l’aie eue” (the day I got her) when talking to others. From time to time, she has also used the term “le jour que tu es arrivĂ©e” (the day you arrived).

For my mother, my Gotcha Day was the happiest day of her life. Her desire (of having a child/becoming a mother) came true that day. For my father, his desire (of having a child/building a new family with his second wife) came true that day. It seemed that my Gotcha Day was more important for my mother than for my father.

For my parents, it was a day to celebrate a happy event, my arrival in their life. The first year, they threw a huge party for my birthday to celebrate both my birthday and my Gotcha Day (the day of my arrival being less than two weeks after my birthday). The second year, they held a party for my Gotcha Day with their friends; they gave me a birthday cake with a candle in the form of a 2, like a two year-old child. About two years and half after my arrival, a neighbor threw a huge party to which we were invited. When I asked my mother what we were celebrating, she explained to me that it was for the 35th anniversary of the immigration of her husband from Italy, and she told me she’d throw a huge party, much bigger that this, for the 35th anniversary of my arrival day. (It was the first time, she took the term “your arrival day” instead of “the day I got you”).
The following years, they didn’t celebrate my Gotcha Day, but my mother stressed that day by giving me a gift or talking about the day at the airport. When talking about it, she would never forget to talk about the pain of childbirth she felt, to show me she loved me as if I was her own.

What “Gotcha Day” means to my (birth) father

To my father, I was his youngest and favorite child. He would show openly his favoritism toward me by making my sisters jealous. Sometimes after my mother’s death, we lived together alone. When his other children turned backs on him for losing his money, I continued to admire him and to have faith in him.

When I found my family 27 years after separation, my sisters told me that our father didn’t abandon me. I don’t know if it is true or not as he is no longer in this world, but I know for sure that Holt Children’s Service didn’t get his consent to sell me for adoption.

He died three years after losing me in loneliness, not knowing where I was, not even knowing if I was alive or dead, not knowing anything of my “Gotcha Day”.

On his behalf, I want to say that Gotcah Day means losing a daughter.

What “Gotcha Day” means to me

For my adoptive parents, I was born the day they got me.

Indeed, I was born a second time at the age of 9 years old.

But to be born again, you must first die.

Going into the airport, I was Kim Myung-Sook (surname first), born in Korea, daughter of Koreans. My ancestors were Koreans and I spoke Korean.
I came out as Kim Goudreau (surname last), born in Korea, daughter of Quebecers. My ancestors are French-speaking Quebecers and I speak French and a little English.

For me, Gotcha Day is a day to mourn the death of Kim Myung-Sook, the daugther Kim Jeong-Jin and Yeo Byung-Rae, which means a day to mourn all the losses due to international adoption:

– the loss of my father, my two sisters, my brother, my brother-in-law, my nephew and my niece;
– the loss of my aunts, uncles and cousins;
– the loss of my two nephews born during our separation, that I didn’t/don’t see growing up;
– the loss of my grandnephew born after our reunion, as the reunion was followed by separation due to cultural and language barriers;
-the loss of a country that I used to call “our country” for I have no country that I can call “my country”;
-the loss of a place that I used to call “our home” for I don’t feel at home anywhere;
-the loss of my mother tongue;
-the loss of my culture;
-the loss of my identity.

For my parents, Gotchat Day was a day to celebrate my “birth”, because they couldn’t understand the losses for they didn’t lose anything.

How can an adoptive parent understand that gaining another family doesn’t replace the loss of an original family? How can an adoptive parent understand that learning two languages and a different culture will never fill the hole created by losing a mother tongue and culture when the adopters never lose anything while gaining someone else’s children in the “wonderful” process of adoption?

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They say, “You’re lucky”.
I smile.
They say, “You must be grateful”.
I nod.
They say, “Your parents are so generous”.
I remain silent.

When I smile, I think: “Abandoned”.
When I nod, I think: “sold/bought and recycled”.
When I remain silent, I think of all the losses:
– Loss of my mother
– Loss of my father
– Loss of my siblings, nephew and niece,
– Loss of my aunts, uncles and cousins
– Loss of my identity
– Loss of my country
– Loss of my language
– Loss of my culture
– Loss of faith

When I hear “lucky”, I write “hurt”.
They write, “You must be angry and bitter. I know someone who’s adopted and is happy.”

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