Friday, July 25, 2014

the a-ha moments keep coming (summer camp reflections)

It's hard to believe but this was the fifth year of Chinese Heritage camp for Cowgirl and myself.

My, how things have changed! 

And yet some things, sweetly, appear to be eternal.

Every summer we make the 500+ mile drive to Colorado for Cowgirl to spend time with old and new friends.  Camp is not only about crafts and field day and songs and goofing with your friends (although that all is a big part of the fun) 

It is also about exploring Chinese heritage and culture ...

Camp is also a place where we explore what it means to be a family brought together through adoption. While we attend camp for our kids, I know for myself it is a place where I can share freely with other parents the gifts and challenges I experience raising my girl. It is also a place where I find and pass on valuable resources and perspectives.  (I've shared in past years the role camp plays for both of us in cultivating a sense of belonging.)

I shouldn't be surprised, but I always am by the a-ha moments that arise, especially in ripe and emotionally rich situations like camp. It is a time when I see my girl through the eyes of other families who understand

While I strive to share here the experiences of my life that help me learn and grow, the details of my girl's story are hers to explore, define and share should she choose to do so.  Trickier is knowing when my story - or rather, my wounds, my triggers -  have become entangled with hers. The a-ha moment (or duh! as I have come to think of such realizations) came to me in an adult workshop entitled Will the REAL Mom Please Stand Up?  

Presented by a family communication scholar/educator Beth Suter Trautman, who is also a camp parent, this workshop considered the deeply rooted assumption that authentic motherhood is typically viewed as stemming from a particular set of biological processes which are believed to induce an irreplaceable, biologically-based mother-child bond. U.S. culture continues to remind us: real mother = biological mother. (Beth Suter)

One important tool I've gained through camp and presenters like Beth is to make obvious the assumptions. While The Husband and I were waiting for Cowgirl, many people gleefully would say "Now that you are adopting, you will get pregnant." While the intention was harmless the underlying assumption is anything but.  I finally pointed out to a friend why that comment was so hurtful: it implied that what we really wanted was to get pregnant -  to have our own child (another injurious assumption; as if our adoptive daughter would be something other than our own) - and that adoption was our second and less desired, alternative.  The reality was we felt in our hearts, and then actively chose, adoption as the means to build our family.  

A particularly painful experience happened shortly after we had come home with Cowgirl. A woman came over to my home to show me some educational materials and she brought her young daughter. Cowgirl was napping when they arrived but woke up during the visit.  She saw the two strangers in her space, the girl playing with her toys, and Cowgirl reacted with an epic meltdown.  As I tried to calm her down, the woman remarked that having breastfed her child meant she was better able to soothe and comfort her child. What went unstated - but implied - was my deficiency and lack.  If didn't give birth to my child, I couldn't be a full or authentic mother.

While I have been aware of reassuring my girl that I will always be here for her - that my bond and commitment to her is and always will be solid and eternal -  I have failed to fully acknowledge my own anxieties.  The a-ha for me was to realize that my wounds require tending to -  or at the very least -  must be recognized in order for me to parent my girl from a place of love and strength. Otherwise, I will forever and always be tripping across my own shadows and triggers.

I belong heart and soul to my girl.  But the fear that lies hidden way way way deep within is that I am replaceable; that I am somehow deficient, not a real mother.  The threats to my "realness" come not only from the assumptions of a culturally idealized monomaternal motherhood form  (the assumption we can have only one true mother - Beth Suter) but from the deeply embedded roots this ideology has woven within my own consciousness.  My girl is on her journey of identity involving a complex and emotionally charged set of ideas to understand, reframe and claim, but I am also on a journey of my own. 

One exercise we did in another workshop (Taming Your Triggers) was a two minute silent meditation.  The point of the exercise was to become aware of how easily we give in to reflexively reacting rather than witnessing what we are feeling/experiencing and holding all that in spacious and nonreactive awareness.  It was also a chance to sit and become aware of all that was bubbling underneath the level of consciousness. For me, I was aware of immense fatigue (from a long drive), sadness over my own short fuse that morning (rushing to get to camp), and the harsh criticism I leveled at myself. 

The a-ha for me was recognizing that while I often consider the underlying factors at play in Cowgirl's reactions (she is hangry - hungry angry - or tired or stretched thin emotionally or confused, overwhelmed etc.) I rarely give such consideration to myself.  My eruptions (yes, I know all parents have them) are seldom due to the circumstances that provoked them - Cowgirl dawdling when we need to get going - but fueled by the toxic pool of unexpressed, unacknowledged  or uncared for feelings, fears, and misguided beliefs that have been simmering within me for days/weeks/decades. These weeds, as my friend and mentor Nissa would point out, leech vital nutrients from the soil of my being, depleting me and my ability to nurture my child and myself. 

Every year at camp I take in the beauty and power of my girl finding herself in her community, blooming and thriving under the love and care of this village of virtual sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles.  

For both of us, our journeys represent a widening of this circle of belonging: acknowledging and fostering polymaternalism (the reality that my child is connected to and has two mothers) which is an essential piece in the larger picture of connection and identity. For both of us it will require weeding out limiting notions and beliefs about who we are, who we can be and how we will co-create family, community and connection.  As I tend to the small plot that is my garden - myself - I  hope and trust that by clearing my weeds, sunlight will fall more evenly upon the patch of soil that is my girl's so that she can see clearly where the blooms and where the weeds lie. 

May the a-ha's and the bright moments keep coming!


  1. oh, miz Lisa. i look at your girl -- so vibrant, so bright and sparkly, so very confident (or at least, that's what comes to me through the images of her) -- and i think to myself...this is a happy child. she is loved, nurtured, and cherished....

    that is no small thing.

    so much love to you!! xoxoxox

  2. awesome awesome awesome
    I LOVE that you do this for your girl, and yourself Lisa and I LOVE the aha moments
    love is complicated, so is being a parent...some situations more challenging than the next
    but what I see is you being engaged, showing up, and taking on what you need to for your famiy
    I love and admire that so much

    love and light

  3. What is admirable here is that you are diligently mothering your daughter, not just going along for the ride. Maybe because adoption was your choice, you are more careful and diligent than those who seem to fall into motherhood by chance. You and Cowgirl will flourish and blossom, as you already are, into maturity. What a rich and beautiful heritage you are building with her.... She will live a life with a solid foundation that will not crumble under pressure, but be a launch pad for her own motherhood experiences down the road. Blessings on you and your family.