Monday, May 28, 2007

Errors in Judgment

I realize that all of the international adoption literature in the world will tell me that what I am about to say is wrong. I realize that what I am about to say will probably make other transracial adoptees (some at least) furious. (Although, I suspect that just about everything I say on this blog, ever, about anything, probably is capable of making someone angry with me.) So, here goes.

Lana was not ready to attend the Asian Festival.

I thought that taking her to the Asian Festival would be a positive experience for her, exposing her to Vietnamese food and culture and people. I thought I had a *duty*, and *obligation* to remind her of what it means, for her, to be a Vietnamese person.

And it was a horrible, wretched, traumatizing mistake. For Lana. I'm not saying it was a bad festival, not at all. I'm saying that Lana was not ready to go to the Asian festival. As near as I can tell, the experience - the travel, the hotel, the enormous crowd - made Lana believe that we were trying to give her away.

I thought things went well, on Friday night. We met up with several other families who adopted from Vietnam, who had come to the Asian festival from as far away as Texas and Oregon (among other places), and we had really fabulous Vietnamese food at a place called HaLong Bay. And Lana, for the first time in almost 2 months, ate Vietnamese food. (Which is not to say that we haven't offered her Vietnamese foods. We have. She has rejected them outright. And vehemently.) But, Friday night, her eyes lit up when the waitress set the soft spring rolls and nuoc mam in front of her. She dove into the food. SHE DRANK the dregs of the nuoc mam sauce after she had used up most of it eating her spring rolls. (She did this once in Hanoi, as well, and it made me nauseated just watching her do it. Both times. On other occasions she has attempted to drink salad dressing and honey mustard sauce.) She devoured her chicken pho - slurping the noodles and the savory broth with loud and messy gusto.

And at 2 AM, in our hotel room, she woke up screaming in terror. She ran to the bathroom, she huddled on the bathroom floor, screaming and crying and begging for her Daddy.

She fell back to sleep wrapped around Husband, and whimpered on and off through the rest of the night.

So, perhaps we should have known better than to take her to the festival. But, it was the main purpose of our weekend trip. (Well, that, and meeting with the other families on Friday night.)

So, we went. And parking was crazy, and there were TONS of people everywhere, and the food smelled AMAZING. And we got bubble tea and a pineapple and lychee beverage and Malaysian food (my best friend from highschool, Amy, has been living in Malaysia for the past decade, and she raves about the food, and I had never had an opportunity to try it. And I have to agree, what we had at the festival was delicious.) I tried to get more spring rolls and some shrimp chips for Lana. She screamed and rejected them. She rejected EVERYTHING. She demanded to be fed "donald's shicken an fries" (McDonald's Chicken Nuggets and French Fries - which I believe she thinks is at the pinnacle of the cuisine found in her new life. This, despite the fact that I am a pretty decent cook, and regularly offer her much better food.) She cried, she threw fit after fit, and, in one weird moment, she stopped crying when she saw a police officer on a horse. (There were several Asian law enforcement officers at the festival. One of them let Gabe sit in his squad car. Gabe was thrilled. Lana refused to sit in the car.) Anyway, Husband took Lana up to the horse, and the officer let her pet the horse. As they were walking away from the officer, Lana said, "Bye-bye horsey. Yummy horsey. I eat you up. Yummy horsey. Yum." (No, I'm not making that up.)

Husband doesn't think the officer heard anything after "bye-bye horsey."

I sincerely hope he didn't.

I have no idea if Lana has ever eaten horse. I myself (inadvertently) ate horse in France, and considering the French influence in Vietnam, it wouldn't surprise me if they also eat horse there. But, I never saw it on any menus. Maybe she was just being silly. Maybe she was just trying to get a rise out of David. Hell, maybe she knows they eat horses in France (she seems to have been educated about a couple of odd things in her short school life in Vietnam) and was commenting on that. I don't know. I have no idea.

I just know that Lana's behavior at the festival ranged from bizarre to wretched. So, after two hours, we left. We went back to the hotel. All four of us took a nap. We went and swam in the hotel pool (even though it was not as nice as the pool in our own backyard.) We took the kids to the California Pizza Kitchen for dinner and, back at the hotel, we watched Over the Hedge and tried to get some sleep. Lana cried and whimpered through most of the night.

We did not return to the festival on Sunday. The kids wanted to swim again, and then we took them to the Columbus Zoo. We visited the zoo, and with some other Vietnamese adopting families whose agency (VORF) was having an event at the zoo that day.

All the way home in the car, Lana demanded, "go faster, Daddy. GO HOME. GO HOME FASTER, Daddy."

She crawled into her own bed last night and slept for twelve hours.

She just wasn't ready. I guess I should recognize that Bich Lan spent over four years being Vietnamese in Vietnam. For just over four months she's been getting her feet underneath her, being a new child, in a new family, a family that doesn't look like her, or eat the things she is used to, or speak the language of her old life. She is trying to make sense of that new life, and it wasn't fair of me, so soon into this new family, to put her in a position that made her uncomfortable. She is trying her hardest to learn to be Lana, in a whole new world.

I don't really know where to go from here, in terms of helping Lana feel comfortable as a trans-racial adoptee. She has positive Asian role models in her life, every day, thanks to the diverse staff at her daycare center. I can take her to visit our Vietnamese friends, and make her Vietnamese foods that maybe only Husband and I will eat. Beyond that, I'm not sure what to do.

Feeling a bit at a loss,


Blogger jenn said...

Just reading this I can't help but think it will be ok. Your heart just aches for knowing what to do best for her...that will drive you to continue looking and trying what works.

Perhaps (and trust me I may b e WAYYYYY off base here) but perhaps this experience will solidify in her that home is home, that when you go somewhere you go home, that when she goes someone she will always go back home. It may have been too much too soon, but it also may have pushed just enough to help her realize how permanent home is. Like I said, could be way off, but hoping this all turns to be a positive in your lives.

I hope you enjoyed the zoo, I wish we could have stuck around (we ended up leaving shortly after seeing you, Gracie fot sick.) It was wonderful to meet you and I am hoping to meet up again!

Monday, May 28, 2007 3:32:00 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I would agree it was too soon, but how could you have known.

I have 2 experiences similar and not at all the same since my girls are soo much younger.

In Viet Nam the hilton had this FAB Vietnamese restaurant. It rocked. It was the best food we ate in country and it was expensive. It was the only time though, that we let the girls be "taken away" by the waitresses. We kept 1 girl with us in the stroller but they alternated between holding Cams and Mia. When we were done and headed back to the room things seemed great. Great meal, we were tired, the girls were tired. Then once in our room the screaming began for like 4 hours in tandem. We equated this to them either grieving their nannies or worrying they were moving along again. We never allowed the girls to be "taken away" again.

Then again, when we were at home a month, I brought my non-sleeping girls to the local nail salon with Vietnamese women who were DYING to see them. They FREAKED out. Screamed when the women approached them and generally were in a bad mood the rest of the day.

Unlike you, unfortunately we do not have alot of Asian influences or friends and need to work on that, so I thought that it would be nice to have them exposed at local events etc but after the screaming we have decided to wait it out. Until they can understand what is going on (which will be weird as well).

Stick with your gut and stay close to home. ---J

Monday, May 28, 2007 7:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Heather said...

My heartbreaks for your family but I do understand alot of what you are saying. My daughter who only spent her 1st 6 months in the orphange does the same thing when we are around older Asian people. She tenses up, screams and throws a fit. I don't know what is going on in her little 15 month old mind but I know that she hangs onto me with a death grip like they are going to try and take her away from me forever. It just breaks my friends hearts that she reacts to them this way because she doesn't act this way to any other race so we keep trying in hopes that it will get better.

Monday, May 28, 2007 10:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Christina said...

Oh poor you. And poor Lana too. But I read this and think, I wouldn't know which is from a 4 year old just feeling overwhelmed in a new (chaotic) situation and which is my child reacting to seeing so many Asian/Vietnamese people and things and getting confused? And how could you know she'd react like that?
When we took Zeeb to the Tet festival he'd only been home for 3 months and he was absolutely fine. He wasn't really outgoing or anything, but he certainly wasn't freaked.
Anyway, I'm sorry the weekend was not what you hoped it would be.

Monday, May 28, 2007 11:30:00 PM  
Blogger maxhelcal said...

Wow, I just sorta addressed this issue on my blog.

It was really cool that you got to meet up with some of your blogger friends though!

Goodluck Gretchen!


Tuesday, May 29, 2007 9:12:00 AM  
Blogger Danielle said...

You are doing an amazing job. Who knew it would be difficult for Lana. You tried to give her an experience and she made it clear that she wasn't ready. Thank goodness you were able to read her signs. Some people would have ignored her signs and just went on with the weekend anyway. You cared enough to listen to her. You are mothering her and she knows that.

Kisses to you. I commend you and all you are doing with your family.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 10:07:00 AM  
Anonymous E. said...

So sorry to hear things were so difficult for her and, consequently, all of you. There is international adoption literature, and then there is real life. I think we have to educate ourselves as much as possible but then figure out our own children, our own family, our own situation, and apply what is applicable and scrap the rest. You are absolutely not wrong for recogninzing that your daughter wasn't ready for the Asian Festival. You tried to do something that you thought would be good for her, it turned out it wasn't (which you could not have known ahead of time), so you left. Nobody should be angry about that. I have always believed, despite the literature, that family culture comes first and birth culture comes second. If a child doesn't feel secure, happy and loved within his/her own family, then all the birth culture in the world isn't going to help them. By recognizing she wasn't ready and leaving early, you undoubtedly reinforced that you love her, are sensitive to her needs, and will take care of her. And you're right, she was great Friday night. I found myself amazed at how well adjusted she seemed considering her age and the short time she has been home. Maybe next year she will be ready. At least by then she'll be better able to discuss it with you ahead of time.
It was great to meet you Friday! And I'm sorry this comment is so long.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger La Turista said...

I think you're doing great, because no matter what happens, you keep trying and you keep loving Lana - what else could anyone ask for?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007 5:37:00 PM  

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