Thursday, April 19, 2007

Like Athena...

Lana is fascinated by photographs. She pours over them with complete concentration, sifting through them, sorting them, putting them in different piles and re-arranging the piles.

She also loves to look at Gabriel's baby book. I will admit that I am a lousy "scrapbooker" and that, as yet, Gabriel's baby book is kind of haphazardly put together, not necessarily in chronological order. But, Lana loves to look at it anyway, and yet, each time she looks at it, she is a little bit agitated and upset.

"This is Gabriel?" she asks, pointing to a photo. "This is Gabriel and Yi Stace?" she asks, pointing another photo. "Gabriel and Nana? Gabriel and Mommy? Gabriel and cat?"

These questions always lead to the same place. The same question ultimately rears it's head. "Where Lana? Where Lana pictures, Mommy?"

When Lana is pointing to a picture of Gabriel as a baby and a toddler, it is easier (for me) to answer these questions. "Lana wasn't born yet." Is an easy answer. Lana doesn't necessarily comprehend that answer, but, at least it's not an answer that leaves me with a sense of uneasiness. The answer would be the same, even if Lana had been born to us.

Gabriel was about 2 and a half when Lana was born in Da Nang. The photos she asks about of him at this age - I find it difficult to answer her. One set of photos in particular has bothered me since I made an effort, a few weeks ago, to determine what I happened to be doing on the day Lana was born.

I went back through my Yahoo! email account, trying to find an email to me or from me, sent on that day, which would give me an idea of what I had been doing. But, there was only one email from that day. I only save personal emails, but, I tend to send personal emails (at least one or two short ones) every single day. But, from that day, November 5, 2002, there is only one email. From my Labor Law professor, advising me on a question I had sent him a few days earlier, about a paper I was writing comparing the collective bargaining laws of Ohio and Michigan.*

In fact that is the only email in my account from October 28 to November 6, 2002. So, I opened up a November 6 email and determined why there was no correspondence during those days.

My cousin E~ had gotten married in Los Angeles that year on November 2. Gabriel and I flew to L.A. with my mom, my step-dad, my grandmother and my aunt. I didn't return home until November 5.

The upside of this is that I know what Gabriel and I were doing. We were flying from L.A. to Detroit.

The photographs that make me...what? Uneasy? Sad? Melancholy? Guilty? Something that cannot be named precisely? They are the photos from that trip. Gabriel dressed up to go trick or treating in Simi Valley with my cousin's son. Gabriel and I and my aunt visiting some botanical gardens with my friend Jennifer, with whom I had taught English in Japan. Gabriel and I at my cousin's wedding, and later at my cousin's wedding reception. Gabriel dancing to the Irish band who played at that wedding reception. Gabriel and my mom and I, shopping Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. Gabriel seeing the ocean for the first time.

On one hand, I am glad to know what I was doing those days, those days in which Lana was making her way into this world. But, in other ways, I look at those photographs and I realize that Lana, Bich Lan, was not even on my radar screen.

I did not know, then, what I know now. That my daughter was out there, on the other side of the planet. At the time, I believed that Gabriel would be an only child. At the time, I could not conceive of mothering another child.

Lana was born, on the other side of the planet, roughly at the same time Gabriel and I were flying home from L.A. We came home, we went about our lives. I finished that paper on collective bargaining. I went to Immigration Law and Labor Law and Environmental Law classes. I took exams. I went to work twice a week at my job as a clerk for a huge law firm. Gabriel went to daycare. David went to school everyday to teach biology and English. Our lives were not interrupted by the birth of a child.

It's amazing to me, when I look at Lana, who seems (from my point of view) to have sprung magically into my life, fully formed as a four-year-old creature...logically I know she did not spring forth in this form, she is not Athena sprung from Zeus's skull. She came to this world in the usual way. It is only AFTER that that her life became unusual. She did not come to our family in the usual way, which has me sitting in an unusual seat - asking my child, my CHILD, my DAUGHTER, questions about her life BEFORE ME. She has a whole history that I don't know much about. And I find myself almost desperate to know.

We are lucky - we are not without any information. We have photographs, mostly from 2004 onward. From July of 2004 through December 2006, we have four pictures taken every three months. Twelve photos per year for 2005 and 2006, and 6 pictures from 2004, provided to us by our agency. Prior to that, our agency's child update reports regarding Lan contain no photographs. We do have one picture of Lana, taken as a teeny tiny screaming infant, and a package of 24 photographs, all taken on the same day of June in 2003. We also have 8 pictures that her foster mother gave us in a small album, on the day we met with her. We are lucky to have even this much information. I know other children who came home with much less. But, I still wish I had something more, something more to help her remember her life before, and for us to know these things as well.

This morning Lana surprised me by being able to express something of her prior life. She was looking at one of the photos taken of her in Vietnam. In the picture she is wearing a white dress with sailboats on the front, and holding two bottles of Tiger Beer. (Yes, really.) The bottles are capped, so, it's not like she is DRINKING the beer. It looks more like she is walking with the beer to give it to someone. I have OFTEN wondered the circumstances surrounding this photo, which was taken by one of Holt's social workers, but not provided to us until after her "assignment" to us - it was not included in the child reports we were given at the time we were asking to be matched to her.

Anyway, Lana was looking at the picture and she pointed and said, "Oh! Mommy! Lana Happy Birthday! Lana Happy Birthday Party! Lana party, Mommy. Lana, party, picture." I was skeptical at first, Lana being somewhat obsessed with wondering when we will have a birthday party for her. (She has been to about 7 birthday parties for various family and friends since we have been home. She WANTS a party for Lana, that much is clear.) But, I checked the date on the photograph - it is dated by our agency as "Nov. 12, 2005". Only a week after her birthday. So, I believe her, and it's a little piece of her life, for me to know. That on her third birthday, someone cared enough to have a birthday party for her. It's not a lot, but, it's something. I'm hoping that, as her language ability increases, she will be able to look over the other photos, and share something of their circumstances, before those memories start to become fuzzy to her.


*Doesn't that sound like a rip-roaring bestselling thriller and aren't you aching to read it?? :-P


Blogger maxhelcal said...


That's so wonderful that Lana remembers that picture was from her birthday party. I hope you can get more information from her too so you can remember for her.

It's so different with a four year old. I doubt Bronte has any memories at all from the orphanage. The only habit I have seen yet is when she is wearing a dress or nightgown, she will go into her drawer when I'm not around and put on a pair of pajama bottoms. She was very used to wearing pajama bottoms.


Thursday, April 19, 2007 2:09:00 PM  
Blogger mam said...

What a good post! I really appreciate your honesty in your blog -- your love and concern for Lana is so clear, but so is your worry and uncertainty, and I thank you for it. I'm going to go back through my email too to find out what I was doing on Lucy's birthday (what did we do without email...quill pens and ledgers?).

**My big law school paper was about whether selling body parts should be legal, and I called it "How Much Is That Kidney In the Window?" My crowning achievement in law school, that title (it might only work if your grandmother sang you the same songs that mine did growing up).

Thursday, April 19, 2007 3:05:00 PM  
Blogger LawMommy said...

How Much is that Kidney in the Window??



Thursday, April 19, 2007 3:18:00 PM  
Blogger mam said...

thanks! yeah...i have no idea if the paper was any good at all, but i was mighty proud of that title.

Thursday, April 19, 2007 11:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Christina said...

I so know what you are talking about. Everything before the day we met Zeeb is a big question mark. I know generalities and when he hit developmental milestones, but I don't know what his average day was like or any stories from his first 3.5 years. Now I want to get out his pictures and see what he tells me... what a good idea that was.

Friday, April 20, 2007 4:08:00 PM  
Blogger BruBunch said...

Gretchen, What a great post. I have had similar experiences with Olivia, yet her english isn't good enough for her to express anything to me yet. I know that frustrates her. She also loves to look at photos....but not the ones from the orphange. I wonder if it makes her too sad because she misses her caregivers and friends or because she wants to forget the experience.

Saturday, April 21, 2007 8:24:00 AM  
Blogger BruBunch said...

Gretchen, What a great post. I have had similar experiences with Olivia, yet her english isn't good enough for her to express anything to me yet. I know that frustrates her. She also loves to look at photos....but not the ones from the orphange. I wonder if it makes her too sad because she misses her caregivers and friends or because she wants to forget the experience.

Saturday, April 21, 2007 8:24:00 AM  
Blogger BruBunch said...

Sorry...I hit publish twice!! OOOOPPPSS!

Saturday, April 21, 2007 8:25:00 AM  
Blogger La Turista said...

Such a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007 10:06:00 PM  
Blogger :: Suzanne :: said...

Thank you so much for participating in our Adoption Roundup. I'm having such fun reading all the new (to me) blogs.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 10:41:00 PM  
Blogger :: Suzanne :: said...

Just wanted to let you know that the Adoption BlogPost RoundUp round-up is up!

Friday, June 01, 2007 4:05:00 AM  

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