The Adventures of Squirky the Alien

A Children's Book Series on Adoption


Author Matthew Salesses: The Space Belongs to Adoptees


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


 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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Olivia Talks About Adoption

“Hi, my name is Olivia and I am 12 years old. I was from Indonesia, Jakarta. My parents adopted me when I was two and a half months old. I am just a regular kid but just came to my family in a different way. I am very open about my adoption, so I don’t have any problems sharing about it.”


Olivia (top) with her family

Hi Olivia, can you tell us how has your understanding of adoption has changed over the years?
When I was younger, I thought that I was put up for adoption because my birth family didn’t want me. However, now, I understand that I was put up for adoption as my birth family wanted me to have a better life.

What made you decided to help your mum at the adoption disclosure workshops over?
I tag along with my mother for these talks when I’m free. I like to experience talking to a crowd about adoption. Even though my mom is the main speaker, I feel that what she shares may not be enough information. The parents there might also want to know from a child’s perspective what disclosure is like. Thus, they get a bonus when I turn up!

What has your experience like being in these disclosure workshops?
I find it quite fun observing people reacting to what I say. Some are quite shocked when I share how annoying I can be to my mum! Others are interested to know how I did school assignments like drawing a family tree or answering science questions about genes.

What has your take been on finding out more about your birth parents?
I am going to find them when I turn 18. It’s a promise from my parents.

What are some things you wonder about your birth parents?
I wonder about how they are doing. I also wonder if they still remember me, and if so do they miss me?

Do also check out my interviews with a birth mother and an adoption consultant on this blog. 

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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.


Talking about Adoption

When my husband and I started the adoption process, we attended a disclosure talk at Fei Yue Community Services. While it had always been our intention to be transparent about adoption, we’d never realised just how important it was to keep an ongoing dialogue on adoption open between parent and child during the crucial growing-up years. This is why The Adventures of Squirky the Alien book series has a Q&A section for adoptive parents on this topic. Because we feel that it’s that important, we’re reproducing this Q&A online here as well.

Qn1Why must we discuss adoption openly with our child?

It’s about building trust in your parent-child relationship. Your child has a right to know. Not talking openly about adoption implies secrecy and a sense of shame, but your child should feel safe and open in voicing out feelings and questions about being an adoptee. At the same time, as parents, it is most ideal if you are the first ones to share adoption information and have control over this information. Initiate an open and ongoing conversation about adoption with your child.


Qn2At what age should we tell our child that he or she is adopted?

Most resources recommend three years old as an appropriate age. Some parents choose to start earlier than three years to ‘practise’ and gain confidence in talking about adoption. When children are exposed to positive adoption terms such as “tummy mummy” (as opposed to “real mummy”) and “forever mummy” (as opposed to “adoptive mummy”) from a very young age, such a frame of reference becomes a natural part of your family’s language.


Qn3How do we respond to our young child who wants to search for his/her birth parents?

Acknowledge your child’s desire to search. Find out more what is behind this eagerness to search for the birth parents and address those underlying concerns. Assure your child that when he or she is older, you will definitely help in this search. All information about your child’s adoption history should preferably be disclosed by the age of twelve. If you’re unable to answer queries your child might have on the birth parents, it’s perfectly fine to say, “I am sorry, I don’t have all the answers. But we can try to find out together if this is important to you.”


Qn4What if our child does not regard us as the “real” parents after finding out about the birth parents?

This is why early disclosure of adoption is important—the child grows up knowing that he or she has two sets of parents, and both sets of parents are real parents. The relationship between adoptive parents and child is not replaceable. But the existence of and connection to birth parents are not things to be denied either.


Qn5How can we comfort our child when he or she expresses loss or grief in being adopted? 

Provide the space for your child to grieve and be sad, and assure him or her of the permanence of your adoptive family. Become that safe place when your child is at his or her lowest point. Allow your child to miss the birth family even though your child might not have met them. As adoptive parents, please do not see your child’s sense of loss for the birth family as a symptom of not feeling loved and connected with your family; these are two separate issues.


Qn6What are some ways to reassure our child that he/she is unconditionally loved even if we are not biologically related? 

Love your child as you would in any typical parent-child relationship: strike a balance between love and setting boundaries, provide a safe and nurturing environment, and build a stable marriage. It is important to note that while you should remain sensitive to adoption issues, you should not overcompensate.

Information adapted from Touch Family Services Ltd, Singapore, as well as input from Chang Chee Siah, Nicole Soojung Callahan, Wong Wei Lei and Andrea Yee. Illustrations by David Liew.