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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 arrivée” (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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My mother would play children’s vinyl records , such as Cinderella, Snow White and Gingerbread Man the first few weeks after my arrival.

Although I didn’t understand English, not even one word, I was fed up with the fairy tales, as I could recognize them from the illustrations of the books that accompanied the records. But I often asked her to play Gingerbread Man which was new to me.

My mother had another old record whose cover represented a yellow-haired boy on a planet. It seemed interesting to me, but she didn’t want to play it.

Six months after my arrival, my parents moved back to their homeland, Quebec, to finalize my adoption. Accordingly, I was forced to learn their mother tongue, French, and to forget my mother tongue, Korean, as well as the little bit of English I had learned.

To teach me French, my mother stopped playing the English records, and she would play instead the record of Le Petit Prince (in English: The Little Prince) which she had refused to play before. The book included many illustrations, but French was so difficult for me then that the only words that I came to underestand after a few weeks were “Dessine-moi un mouton” which means “Draw me a sheep”.

I read the book more than two decades later, in 1999, after receiving it as gift from a friend. Below is the picture of my book. (The book and the record of my mother had the same picture on them).

Le Petit Prince (English: The Little Prince) is the most famous novella of the French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Published in 1943 in New York, it has been translated into 220 languages and dialects and has sold more than 134 millions copies in the world.

You can read online the summary or the full version in English.

I notice since my adolescence that when grown-ups say they love the story of The Little Prince, they mean that they love and understand children.

My mother loved the story of Little Prince. And she loved children too. Most of the family reunion pictures taken before my arrival shows her playing on the floor with her nephews and nieces. She was also loved and known by the neighbor children to be the coolest and the most understanding mom of all.

My mother loved me, but she never understood me.
She never understood things that were written in her favorite book The Little Prince, yet the cover of her book/ record showed that she had read/played it many times.

For instance, the meaning of “tame” which is well explained by the fox to Little Prince, in chapter 21.

“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”
“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”
“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.
But, after some thought, he added:
“What does that mean– ‘tame’?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”
“‘To establish ties’?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”
“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower . . . I think that she has tamed me . . .”

When I first met my mother at the airport, she was nothing more than a stranger who was just like hundred other strangers. She was nothing more than “an American lady with yellow hair” to me. And I had no need of her.
But it seems that on her part, she needed a child. She negleted to tame me. She didn’t even take a second to introduce herself. She took me in her arms, she kissed me, she touched my arms, she touched my face, she touched my head,…, and she kissed me non stop. Had she taken the trouble to know about my birth culture before my arrival, she wouldn’t have kissed me. I was disgusted by her lips on my cheeks, by her smell, by her perfume. She was so elated to have a child that she didn’t see me grimacing and wiping discretely my cheeks with my hand when I had the chance.

Yet it was clearly written in her favorite book how to tame, and the importance to tame.

“Please– tame me!” he said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…”
“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me– like that– in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”
The next day the little prince came back.
“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you… One must observe the proper rites…”
“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.
“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”

Many adoptive parents don’t understand the importance of taming. They want their adopted child to bond with them immediately, when it doesn’t happen the way they want, they label the child of RAD. They then try to force the child to become attached to them using various technics of attachment therapy. Some give up their adopted child for adoption after only few weeks or after years, while some other return their adopted child to his/her country of origin.

Korea delivers its children directly to the prospective adoptive parents. It is not required for the prospective adoptive parents to go to Korea or to meet/tame the children before adopting them. Adopted children of Korea have to call the strangers they have never met before “dad” and “mom”.

As another example of what my mother didn’t understand was my wish to return home. I liked staying in her home, but I became homesick after a few weeks of my stay.

She saw me every night lying on the floor with tears in my eyes, but she thought I was scared of my bed,  she had read in the Holt’s booklet that Koreans slept on the floor. Had she taken the time to tame me before making me call her “Mommy”, she would have known that I actually liked sleeping in my bed. Had she taken the time to learn Korean, she would have known that I missed my friends of orphanage and she would have known that I lay on the floor to pray my dead grandmother to bring me back home, to bring me back to my father.

She saw me one night crying aloud and packing the things with which I came and I went out to go back to my “planet”. But she still misunderstood me; she thought I was only a spoiled girl.

She never knew that, years later, I have tried to commit suicide several times. Two of the attempts were to go back to Korea. (I hadn’t read yet the book then).

Yet, in chapter 17 of her favorite book, the snake proposes Little Prince his help if he grow too homesick.

“I can carry you farther than any ship could take you,” said the snake.
He twined himself around the little prince’s ankle, like a golden bracelet.
“Whomever I touch, I send back to the earth from whence he came,” the snake spoke again. “But you are innocent and true, and you come from a star…”
The little prince made no reply.
“You move me to pity– you are so weak on this Earth made of granite,” the snake said. “I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet. I can–”
“Oh! I understand you very well,” said the little prince.

And in chapter 26, Little Prince commits suicide to return to his planet.

After a silence the little prince spoke again:
“You have good poison? You are sure that it will not make me suffer too long?”
I dropped my eyes, then, to the foot of the wall– and I leaped into the air. There before me, facing the little prince, was one of those yellow snakes that take just thirty seconds to bring your life to an end. Even as I was digging into my pocked to get out my revolver I made a running step back. But, at the noise I made, the snake let himself flow easily across the sand like the dying spray of a fountain, and, in no apparent hurry, disappeared, with a light metallic sound, among the stones.
I reached the wall just in time to catch my little man in my arms; his face was white as snow.
“What does this mean?” I demanded. “Why are you talking with snakes?”
“I am glad that you have found what was the matter with your engine,” he said. “Now you can go back home–”
“How do you know about that?”
I was just coming to tell him that my work had been successful, beyond anything that I had dared to hope.
He made no answer to my question, but he added:
“I, too, am going back home today…”
Then, sadly–
“It is much farther… it is much more difficult…”

I don’t blame my adoptive mother for not understanding me. She only knew of me a happy and grateful face as the people told me repeatedly how I was lucky to be adopted and how I should be grateful.

How could my mother undertand me as an adoptive parent, when there exists no adoptive parent who understands the importance for a child to live on his/her planet? (Planet being the home, the community, the birth country, the “birth” mother, the mother tongue, the birth culture of the adopted child.)

Blinded by the desire for a child, the prospective adoptive parents call their home the child’s home before getting to tame the child; and they call “birth mother” any pregnant mother who seemed to be vulnerable. When the adoption process gets delayed for some reason, they say, “We want to bring OUR children home NOW!” They don’t understand that the child they call theirs is actually someone else’s child. They say they want to a help a poor orphan who has no home and spend $30 000 to bring a child to their home, but they won’t give the same amount to help an entire village and community that could raise the child at his/her home.
They don’t understand that a child separated from his/her mother (birth country, birth language,…, birth planet) will suffer.

“Only the children know what they are looking for,” said the little prince. “They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry…”

Grown-up think that adopted children from foreign country must be happy to have been saved from poverty. They think a child having 100 new toys is happier than a child having one old toy. They don’t understand that a child doesn’t need to live in a rich country to be happy.

My parents didn’t understand that the toys they offered me didn’t make me happy. They couldn’t understand that growing up in Korea, without toy to play with, was not a reason for me to be sad. They didn’t understand that despite their love, I missed my “planet”. They didn’t understand that everything they gave me couldn’t replace all the losses due to international adoption. Learning two languages don’t fill the void left by losing a mother tongue.

Little Prince saw on the Earth, 5000 roses, like the rose on his planet, in one garden, but he still has chosen to return home where there was only one rose, the rose that has tamed him, and three volcanoes.

He was standing before a garden, all a-bloom with roses.
“Good morning,” said the roses.
The little prince gazed at them. They all looked like his flower.
“Who are you?” he demanded, thunderstruck.
“We are roses,” the roses said.
And he was overcome with sadness. His flower had told him that she was the only one of her kind in all the universe. And here were five thousand of them, all alike, in one single garden!
“She would be very much annoyed,” he said to himself, “if she should see that… she would cough most dreadfully, and she would pretend that she was dying, to avoid being laughed at. And I should be obliged to pretend that I was nursing her back to life– for if I did not do that, to humble myself also, she would really allow herself to die…”
Then he went on with his reflections: “I thought that I was rich, with a flower that was unique in all the world; and all I had was a common rose. A common rose, and three volcanoes that come up to my knees– and one of them perhaps extinct forever… that doesn’t make me a very great prince…”
And he lay down in the grass and cried.

After finding a well, Little Prince discusses with the narrator. A little water can also be appreciated like a Christmas present, just as a single rose out of a whole garden is all that is really needed.

“The men where you live,” said the little prince, “raise five thousand roses in the same garden– and they do not find in it what they are looking for.”
“They do not find it,” I replied.
“And yet what they are looking for could be found in one single rose, or in a little water.”
“Yes, that is true,” I said.
And the little prince added:
“But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart…”

Adoptive parents celebrating the “Gotcha day” don’t understand that their adopted child might feel sad at their birthdays or Gotcha day. The adopted children don’t know how to name his/her feelings because they are raised to feel grateful all the time.

My adoptive parents never knew I was sad on my (faked) birthdays. My “gotcha” day is 12 days later. However, they noticed I seemed depressed every November. They belived it had to do with the lack of sunlight.

The conversation after finding the well makes the little prince homesick and he tells the narrator that it is the anniversary of his descent to the Earth and that he has returned to the place he landed.

“You have plans that I do not know about,” I said.
But he did not answer me. He said to me, instead:
“You know– my descent to the earth… Tomorrow will be its anniversary.”
Then, after a silence, he went on:
“I came down very near here.”
And he flushed.
And once again, without understanding why, I had a queer sense of sorrow. One question, however, occurred to me:
“Then it was not by chance that on the morning when I first met you– a week ago– you were strolling along like that, all alone, a thousand miles from any inhabited region? You were on the your back to the place where you landed?”
The little prince flushed again.
And I added, with some hesitancy:
“Perhaps it was because of the anniversary?”
The little prince flushed once more. He never answered questions– but when one flushes does that not mean “Yes”?
“Ah,” I said to him, “I am a little frightened–”
But he interrupted me.
“Now you must work. You must return to your engine. I will be waiting for you here. Come back tomorrow evening…”
But I was not reassured. I remembered the fox. One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed…

Has any grown-up understood yet why some Korean adoptees go “home” to Korea to commit suicide? Has any grown-up understood yet why a Swedish study show a higher rate of suicide and severe mental health problems among international adoptees?

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