The Adventures of Squirky the Alien

A Children's Book Series on Adoption


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Before and After: Our Very Own (A Sort-of Book Review)

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Five years ago, I was at the Select Bookstore in Tanglin Shopping Centre (which no longer exists) when I came across this book: “Our Very Own: Stories Celebrating Adoptive Families” published by Touch Family Services.

This was at a time when my husband and I were curious about adoption but hadn’t really done anything yet.

The most memorable bit of that book was the account of how Rod Monterio and his wife, Joyce, adopted a one-year-old boy from the foster care system. Rod was one of my favourite DJs growing up, and just knowing that someone I was familiar with had adopted made it feel a little more accessible. The overall tone of the book was also surprising (note this was the first form of adoption literature I’d read): adoption was celebrated and appreciated, and I liked how people from a variety of backgrounds were featured in the book.

Earlier this year, the 2nd collection was launched – “Our Very Own 2: Stories Celebrating Adoptive Families”. We went for the book launch and my son spent most of the time running around with one of his buddies. We said hi to a few families that we have gotten to know over the years, and as I flipped through the book, I saw that The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #1: Why Am I Blue? had been listed as one of the resources. That’s when it really hit me: SO MUCH has happened within these five years.

It’s kind of like the potted plant that you see in the photo above. My son did some “gardening” at a birthday party last week where he got to paint a pot, dig soil and sprinkle seeds. When we got home, I chucked it at the balcony and forgot all about it. When I finally remembered yesterday, I discovered that little shoots had sprung forth.

This made me realise that growth is a part and parcel of life, and it happens whether you want it to happen or not. We age, children (and plants) grow, and sometimes, things just blossom when you’re not even really looking.

For the Our Very Own 2 book, the story which struck me the most was from an older parent, Yoke Fong, who recounted how she and her husband had adopted two girls who initially were resistant to their love. There’s this realistic resilience in this account which somehow encouraged me so much in this parenting journey.

Such stories are not bestsellers. Such stories may not really contribute anything to the “literary scene”. But these personal narratives need to be out there in a society that struggles in dealing with anything out of the norm. Such stories plant the seeds for more dialogue, acceptance and love.

If you’d like to get your hands on Our Very Own and/or Our Very Own 2, please email adoption@touch.org.sg to order the books (delivery can also be arranged). 

 

 


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Author Matthew Salesses: The Space Belongs to Adoptees

Matt-Salesses

The first time I read American author Matthew Salesses’ experience as an adoptee, I was blown away not just by his way with words, but also by this burning frankness that I never get from reading the “self-help” kind of adoption literature (even those that interview adult adoptees).

Matthew was adopted from Korea at the age of two. After reading a couple more of his wonderfully thoughtful (and sometimes, emotionally hard-hitting) essays, I e-mailed him last year asking if I could feature him on this blog. Even though he is on a whirlwind book tour for his first novel, he said he would definitely get back to me at some point because he was “happy to do anything that can help people in the adoption triad”.

He finally did a few days ago. His answers have made me realise that there are many more adoption perspectives I have not considered, and strangely links to a realisation I had while writing the 5th Squirky book (which I’ll be talking more about in the next post). But for now, here’s Matthew:

Could you tell us briefly what it was like growing up in a transracial adoptive family?
I’m not sure it can be told briefly. I’ve written various essays about it, but none of them have captured the full complexity. It’s very complicated. There’s this essay I like on racial melancholia and Asian American literature, about the inability to get over the thing you are mourning because you never really possessed it. That’s one way to describe it.

Have you contacted/searched for your birth family? Why or why not?
I have never searched for my birth family in the way you need to if you want to find your birth family. When I was younger, I didn’t know enough about how to search, and how many lies people are told, and now (or so I tell myself at least) I don’t have time. I never wanted to upset my adoptive parents, either.

What would you say to adoptive parents who want to help their children find out more about his/her parents but their children show no interest?
I would say that there are a lot of potential traps there. Again, I never wanted to upset my parents, to make them feel betrayed or whatever. They never brought up searching, which made it feel like it would be a betrayal if I did. If they had pushed it, though, I suspect I would have felt (at least at first) like they were pushing me away or highlighting my difference, or testing me, and I would have refused because that would have seemed like the best way for me to tell them I love them.

There was also the fact that I didn’t want to be seen as different and didn’t want my parents to feel the pain of difference that I always felt. The adoptee is always saving the adoptive parents. So what I would say is that “show no interest” doesn’t mean “not interested.” I think it would have helped if I had felt that the option was available, that I finally had a choice in the matter. I, and I suspect other adoptees, needed to be able to come to things in my own time, on my own terms. My own time and terms were constantly things denied me.

Could you suggest how adoptive parents and agencies/institutions can create a space for adoptees to contribute more towards the adoption narrative and/or adoption issues?
I like the intention here, but I think the question starts with the assumption that the space is for the adoptive parents and agencies to give to adoptees. It should be the adoptees’ space first and foremost. It should be the adoptees’ option to give space to adoptive parents and agencies/institutions to contribute to the narrative or not. I don’t think this is so different from the way we look at parenting in general. I’m not giving my daughter space to be herself. I’m trying not to take away space from who she is-she owns herself and I’m trying to keep society from telling her differently.
You can find out more about Matthew Salesses here and reach him on Twitter @salesses

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 Do also check out his novel The Hundred-Year Flood, which has picked up a bunch of accolades such as  A Millions Most Anticipated Book of 2015, A Buzzfeed Pick for 17 Awesome New Books You Need to Read This Fall, A Refinery29 Pick for Best Summer Reading and A Gawker Review of Books Pick for 9 Must-Reads for the Fall.


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Sharon Ismail: Adoption Taught Me About Family

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Sharon Ismail is a familiar face in Singapore for her acting and hosting work in theatre and television. She’s also a polytechnic lecturer and a children’s book author. In fact, her first book “What Sallamah Didn’t Know” (2007) is based on her mother’s adoption story. Here’s an excerpt of the synopsis:

“Sallamah grew up thinking that her life was ordinary. She lived in an ordinary kampong with an ordinary family and had an ordinary group of friends whom she played ordinary games with. Little did she realize that a piece of paper would change the reality of all that she knew and understood.”

Sharon is hoping to continue this story with a 2nd Sallamah book out next year. I had a chat with her recently to find out more about why she wanted to write about adoption.

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Hi Sharon, why did you want to tell this story?

My mother is Chinese and she was adopted by a Malay family. I’ve realised that in her generation, inter-racial adoption was actually quite common, but there are no statistics or studies formally looking into this phenomenon. We hear of people being adopted by families of another race, but they are all personal anecdotes, and I felt that I wanted to create a more permanent record of this for my daughters.

How did you find out your mother was adopted?

I was 13 years old and at the wet market with my mother, waiting for my father to pick us up. Out of the blue, she said, “By the way, you’re half Chinese.” There was no prior conversation, but some things began to add up. People always mentioned that she looked Chinese and that she looked different from her siblings.

How did this piece of news affect you?

Nothing was different on the surface, but my understanding of family began to change. I didn’t love my grandparents any less, my grandfather still picked me up from school everyday, but I saw them in a different light. They had two biological children and four adopted children, and I realise how undiscriminating they were in their love to bring these babies into their family. Family is not necessarily the one you are born into, but the one who loves you. “Blood is thicker than water” deserves a rethink because if that were true, my mother and I would not be here today.

How does your mother regard her adoption?

I don’t really know as she doesn’t really talk about it. She is used to not talking about it because she came from a time when there was a huge stigma on adoption. Adopted children were perceived as being discarded and picked up from a rubbish bin. My mother does have some information on her biological family, and I did suggest that she open up the search by telling her story to the newspapers (many older adoptees in Singapore have found their biological relatives that way). However, she really doesn’t want to make a fuss and I respect her decision.

How have readers responded to your story?

It’s been really heartwarming to have people come up to thank me for telling their parents’ stories. Some adoptive parents have also told me that this book has helped them start the disclosure discussion with their children. I’d initially self-published this book under the First-Time Writers and Illustrators Publishing Initiative, but it was later picked up by Scholastic Asia and it has been translated into four languages. The Ministry of Education also made this book part of their Primary 6 English text under the STELLAR (Strategies for English Learning and Reading) syllabus.

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Thanks so much, Sharon! I really enjoyed the evocative descriptions in this book (e.g. “This little bundle was fair and chubby, with dark hair so fine that it stood straight up and swayed gently whenever a breeze curled its way around her.”) and it is such a necessary Singaporean story. You can borrow it from the library here or purchase a copy here.

1st image courtesy of Sharon Ismail


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Review & Reflections – The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairytale by Grace Lin

redthreadWe’ve been talking to C about adoption these past few months. I’d initially imagined this long, serious sit-down session where we’d tell him the “big” stuff, but given his current attention span, it has been more like “little reveals” along the way.

At first, I thought he’d hadn’t even got it, because a few months ago, while reading him Squirky books, I reiterated to him that Squirky was adopted, just like he was adopted.

“A doctor? I don’t want to be a doctor. I want to be a fireman,” he said.

The next time we brought it up, we talked about how there were many people we knew who were adopted, like Yeye (grandpa), Squirky, Kungfu Panda (who makes him giggle) and Superman (favourite superhero).

“But are YOU adoctored (how he prounounces adopted)?” he asked my husband. And when my husband shook his head, C dismissed the whole thing. “Then I don’t want to be adoctored.”

But it was in reading The Red Thread that made me realise he’s probably getting this much more than we’d ever realised.

Here’s the synopsis of the book taken from Amazon:
A king and queen should be full of joy and contentment, but they both feel a strange pain that worsens every day. Then a peddler’s magic spectacles reveal a red thread pulling at each of their hearts. The king and queen know they must follow the thread.

To be frank, I didn’t think he’d take well to the book because he typically picks out books on trucks and monsters. I borrowed it because it said “ADOPTION fairytale” and I’ll take whatever adoption literature I can get from the public library. He stayed completely silent the first time I read it.

At the end, he asked, “Why is the baby holding red thread?”

I explained to him that the baby girl was meant to be adopted by the King and Queen and be their daughter.

And then he said rather emphatically, “Hey, I’m not a princess! I’m a boy!”

I was pretty stunned how he’d immediately been able to identify himself within that story. And this was confirmed later that night, when he asked if he could wear my hair rubber-band on his wrist “just like the red thread”. He also requested that I buy a ball of red thread to “do craft” based on this book.

I had a few issues with the book in terms of representation, especially how “China” is presented as a dirty village where people are dressed in rags. But there’s something about Lin’s storytelling here which kids connect with instantly, as seen by the Amazon reviews.

Overall, I’m glad that this book has opened up more opportunities to discuss adoption with C, and hopefully more in his own terms.


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Lari Cannon: Adoption Consultant

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Lari Cannon is an adoption consultant, counsellor and parent trainer with over 20 years of experience around the globe. I first met Lari earlier this year at the Squirky Book #2 launch in Kuala Lumpur, which had a tie-up with OrphanCARE where she currently works. Just before the event, I had a brief but strangely confessional conversation with her on parenting, and I personally felt so comforted by her advice I thought it’d be good to have a little e-mail interview with her here!

How did you get involved in adoption work?
I have a counselling degree. It was my work experience in orphanages around the world and with adoptive families that led to my desire to gain further education in this field. After 10 years experience working with the adoption triad (adoptee, adoptive parents and birth parents), I did a postgraduate certificate in adoption.

How did you end up working in Asia and OrphanCARE?
I moved to Malaysia in 2009 due to my husband’s job posting. I was working with American Adoption Professionals Abroad helping families living in Asia adopt from all around the world! I first volunteered at OrphanCARE (OC) in 2013 by speaking and advocating for adoption and also speaking on deinstitutionalisation. In the US, adoption is much more common and open. Seeing adoptive, multi-racial families, families with adopted children with special needs is very common. Schools are educated and support and embrace families that choose to adopt. This is not so common in Malaysia at this time.

Malaysia, like many other Asian countries, is just now starting to talk openly about adoption. In the past, it was a secret and not spoken of. The tricky part about this is that the child’s rights are not being fully respected and it often backfires with detrimental consequences for the child and family. Also – if adoption is secretive, chances are the birth mother’s rights were also not considered in the process.

What kind of things are you working on/implementing at OrphanCare?
Training! OC has committed to staff training to bring their practices up to international best practices. We’re focusing on parent training which requires all adoptive parents to take 10 hours of adoption education courses. We also doing training for a pilot project children’s home as part of our deinstitutionalisation program. Staff, adoptive parents, and home operators are being trained on topics such as attachment, grief-loss, talking to children about adoption, and risks in development for institutionalised children.

What has the response been like so far with OrphanCare staff and clients?
Amazing! Everyone seems so eager to learn. Many parents that adopted years ago have expressed that they wish they would have known about these unique aspects of adoption when their children were small.

Generally, how do you “suss out” if a couple is ready to adopt a child?
We have implemented a very stringent screening process. Each couple is screened for their criminal background, health, marriage, family relationships, living space, personal stability, finances, and willingness to learn about parenting adopted children. We don’t expect any person to know it all, just be eager to learn!

As a counsellor, how do you reconcile the happy yet tragic aspects of adoption?
In adoption, everyone loses something. The hope is that with quality parenting, a close relationship between the child and parent develops, and that the gains eventually outweigh the losses. We have to focus heavily on the ‘quality parenting’ piece so that we are sure to see these gains.

Let’s also never forget about the birth mothers. They experience a tremendous loss. However, if they are given an ethical, respectful, and safe adoption, the hope is they can recover and begin to work towards their dreams and eventually create a family in the way they choose. OC has worked very hard over the last few months to make sure their birth mothers are empowered. Our services to birth mothers have improved across the board.

What advice do you generally give to adoptive parents who fear disclosing to their child for fear of rejection or hurt or “unnecessary drama”?
Many folks are too afraid their child will hurt too much or love them less if they know they’re adopted. A child has a right to know their identity. In my experience the child always finds out anyway. You can depend on people to keep your secret for the lifespan of your child. Often children learn about their adoption in the teen years. These are tough years for non-adopted children as well. Teens are trying to create a self- identity and it’s often a very fragile time in their lives. How much tougher if you learn your parents have been lying to you just at the time you’re striving for more independence? Adoption is not a shameful thing, so why keep it a secret? It’s easier to tell your children they’re adopted when they are small. From young, get them used to the idea and the language surrounding the topic such as, birth mother and father, adoption etc. This way, they can incorporate this knowledge into their identity as they mature.

So what do you think of Squirky? 🙂
The Squirky book series is a fantastic tool to help parents introduce the concept of adoption to their children. If parents are comfortable with it, chances are much higher that the children will be too! My hope is that the series can be used in the region to encourage parents to talk openly with their children about being adopted. I also hope children can identify with Squirky’s feelings of being ‘different’ and find comfort and support from their parents as they read together. It’s a great tool to get children talking!

I’ve also done a radio interview on adoption with Lari on BFM 89.9 – do give it a listen as she makes some really pertinent points here.


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A Birth Mother Shares

There are days when I wonder about C’s birth parents. We only saw their passport photos. Did he get his charming smile and love for music from them? How did they feel when they handed him over to the adoption agency?

I recently connected with Rachel Roberts, a clinical social worker from California. Ten years ago, she gave her daughter up for adoption (I wish there was a more politically correct way to say this). I really appreciate how meticulously and authentically she shares this experience, because it’s something that has always seemed elusive to me. I hope that you too will be blessed by her words.

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Why and how did you decide that your daughter should be adopted?

The counsellor that I worked with helped me look at every option with an unplanned pregnancy. She helped me see what life would be like as a parent, what life would be like making an adoption plan and she educated me on the different types of adoption. It wasn’t until my 7th month of carrying my daughter that I decided adoption was the best option for both of us. The final agreement between me and her parents was a semi-open adoption contract with the goal of her becoming fully open over time. They expressed a desire that she either grow up always knowing me or waiting until she was old enough to decide to meet me.

I was fortunate to have two loving parents raising me and that’s when I started to realise something. I realised that every child born should be born with the same amount of opportunities, but unfortunately, they are not. I knew that I could not welcome her into this world in the same amazing way that I was welcomed into this world and by choosing to parent her myself, I felt selfish.

Her life was not my life but I was entrusted by God to make the most profound decision of her life on her behalf. I prayed a lot. I cried a lot. I ate a lot! Most importantly, I wrote in a journal, which saved my sanity. I think it will serve as a wonderful buffer for the time when my daughter and I can rebuild our relationship. I wrote in it every day. I wrote down my thoughts about pregnancy, about her. I wrote down her measurements and heartbeats that were reported at my doctor’s appointments. I passed this on to her when we said goodbye. I included a picture of me and a picture of her father. I included some pictures of our family with her in the hospital. I wanted her to look at it and know that there was nothing but love for her in this world.

 How did you feel when you had to let your daughter go to her adoptive family? 

Saying goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. She was crying in her crib and I was crying and I held her and kissed her all over her face and held her little hand. I could not physically place her back into the crib because to me, it felt like abandonment to just place her back down in the crib alone with no one holding her. So I passed her along to my family so that they could say goodbye and my mind has literally blocked out everything else. I don’t remember going home and I don’t remember what I did or what my thoughts were. I remember seeing my mum and my boyfriend’s mum crying outside of the hospital room when they wheeled me out. I remember crying in my kitchen when the counsellor arrived for me to sign papers to make it official. What has carried me through each day since then was remembering the 9 months I had spent praying and analysing every option and that what I chose was the best chance for her to live a full and happy life.

In everyday life, what are some common thoughts that cross your mind when you think about your daughter and the life she’s leading? 

Ten years later, what I long for the most is to know what her laugh sounds like. I see the joy on her face in so many pictures and I know that her laugh has to be so deep and contagious. The days that I spend crying because I miss her are now few and far between. I am able to be proud of her on a daily basis. And deep down. I know that she wouldn’t want me to spend my days crying in grief, so I’ve worked hard and I’ve attempted to do good and help others.

I often wonder how disciplined her parents are and if she gets into a lot of trouble. I wonder if the gifts that I send are appropriate or if she will even like them. Maybe she already has the book I’ve sent or doesn’t like the shirt I bought her. I wonder how close she is to her sisters, who are also adopted. My mind is never worried or concerned about her safety or happiness. I believe that God has been gracious to me throughout her life and has granted me peace in this regard. I never think about her crying or hurting or anything like that, I trust that she is ultimately living a life that is good and meaningful.

What are some things you’ve learned about your daughter that are similar to you? (e.g. appearance, personality, talents etc.)

In appearance, our faces have the same bone structure. She also has my ears and the shape of her eyes are like mine. We both love chocolate, coffee, and cheese. They would always talk about how much she loved coffee (decaf) at a very young age. What they don’t know is that I worked in a coffee shop the entire time that I was pregnant! Recently, she decided to paint her bedroom purple … I also had a purple room when I was her age. We both love performing, dancing, and being outside. She is apparently also very stubborn and I have to admit that trait comes from me. They also talk about how affectionate she is, I am too. They talk about how social she is and that many of her teachers refer to her as a future CEO – I’d like to think she gets that from me! But there are also many things that we do not have in common. For example, she loves to cook and watches the Food Network all the time while I hate to cook.

What advice would you give to adoptive parents who are reluctant to reveal to their children that they’re adopted? 

I think it’s all about the parents’ perception of adoption. Children can pick up the hidden messages that we often try to hide. If you have insecurities and fears about revealing this to your child, you should first look within to examine why you are having these feelings. You have to accept that your child was adopted before they can accept it as well. Your child should ultimately feel that their adoption only gave them more people who love them even if their birth family isn’t in contact or in their life. They need to know and hear from you that the reason they are with you is because many people loved them – both their birth families and their adoptive families. And you should ultimately let them lead you through the discussion. They’ll ask things when they’re ready and it will probably happen over the course of their life, not in one big “sit down” moment and then it’s over. Honesty is best in this situation. Love them daily, showing them through your actions how loved they are.


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Friday Flips: God Found Us You

found Synopsis: When Little Fox asks his mother to tell his favourite story, Mama Fox recounts the day he arrived in her life, from God to her arms. 

God Found Us You by  Lisa Tawn Bergren and Laura J. Bryant is currently C’s favourite adoption book. It’s a little more wordy (for ages 4-8) than the other bedtime stories he’s reading at the moment, but he likes the intimate conversation that takes place between Mama Fox and Little Fox. He also thinks Little Fox looks cute. There are other animals that appear as “extras” in the story, and he likes to point them out as well.

Below is our favourite part of the book. I think it’s because we’re both kind of dreamy. “Is Mama Fox going for a swim?” C. asks.

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“I’d go up to the cliffs and watch for you. I stood there day after day after day …”

When I first read “God Found Us You” on my own, I did find it a tad touchy-feely. Must Mama Fox keep going on and on about how special Little Fox is? Shouldn’t he already know that by now? my stoic Asian brain cells thought to themselves. However, I did get this book long before C. talked. Reading it to him now, I realise that he is very curious to know what Mama Fox is thinking about all the time. So yes, even if this story is quite tedious to read aloud, I’m really happy C. has found an adoption story (besides Squirky!) that he enjoys.

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“But I knew that someday you’d arrive, when God would find us you.”

Borrow the Book (Singapore National Libraries only)
Location: Junior Lending Picture Book
Call Number: English BER
Check for availability here (only one copy, so get it reserved!)

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“I love Little Fox SOOOOOOOO much!”

This review is part of the Friday Flip series by Growing with the Tans.

Growing with the Tans