Something that an early reader of my book asked me recently: And then what? After the end of the narrative that wraps up in the waiting lounge for the homebound flight…what’s next?
What’s next is we all learned to live with ‘it’, and made our own assessment of what ‘it’ is and what ‘it’ means for who we are. (Wait for Ivy’s book to get her views.)
More personally, what was next for me was the airport in Seoul teaching me a lesson.
I’d never been in Korea before. I had friends in childhood (1970s) who were Korean adoptees, one friend whose mom was a KAD. My child has friends who are also KADs. Because you don’t know what you don’t know, I associated 60 years of adoption outplacement from Korea with problems in Korea. I had always believed that Korea was this small country struggling with the aftereffects of a devastating war and division, a nation that had never quite gotten to its feet fully.
In defense of this assumption, I’d like to point to 60 years of Korea sending its social orphans, children born to unmarried mothers, away and out of sight. Must be an under-resourced place if it’s not possible to find local adoptive families for these healthy babies. I just assumed that a prosperous stable democracy wouldn’t settle for a child welfare system that…backward, in the sense of unsuitable to the emotional and developmental needs of children.
My first hint that I was just plain wrong was in the approach to Seoul. The planeload of tourists began filling out duty-free forms, and I began to wonder whether some of the passengers on this Sunday night return had gone to Cambodia for the weekend on a lark, like I might fly to Miami if I had the cash.
We disembarked and began to stumble through the biggest airport I’d ever seen. But first we had to thread our way through the other passengers, all of whom were picking up what appeared to be hundreds of USD worth of merchandise. On no other return flight from Asia had I seen anything resembling this display of disposable income.
Then we couldn’t believe the price of the sleeping room. By ‘we’ I mean ‘me’, and by ‘couldn’t believe’ I mean ‘disputed the reality of’. Nine surreal hours of searching for sanitary supplies began after I got my family settled. I wandered fruitlessly inside a building larger than my home town, but better equipped to survive a global shortage of Hermes scarves. I asked at several pharmacies, drugstores, groceries, and the only replies I received were embarrassed shrugs and pointing to the other end of the terminal.
At some point during this quest, staggering once more beneath the 3 meter high perfume ads featuring Brad Pitt, arguably the most famous adoptive father on Earth, I had a flash of insight. A man traveling alone could survive indefinitely inside the Seoul airport, which is set up for his benefit and convenience. But unless you are willing to use a Coach purse as a maxi-pad, the basic needs of women are disregarded, simply ignored.
This was not simply a metaphor: Korea is a wealthy country that could well afford to create a child welfare system which would serve as an example to the rest of the world. But Korea apparently doesn’t want to.*
This raised the question, What else do I know that ain’t so? What other assumptions have misled me? Is it more likely that I was this mistaken only about the reality of Korea today, or that I’ve used stereotypes and short cuts to seriously misunderstand what adoption is, as seen from the other end of the transaction?
So that was (literally and figuratively) the next development: Before we were even home, I’d begun to question the fundamental building blocks of what I really understood about where my child had come from, despite knowing at that moment more than I had known for 13 years.
What was next was writing a book about the answers to those questions.
*This is a moving target; in the past year there have been some changes in Korean policy toward single moms and social orphans that seem hopeful. For more than I know, try Margie Perscheid’s blog: http://adoptionparadigmshift.blogspot.com/