Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Kelsi Macklin
Father’s Day is coming up. I will be moving back home to California from Beijing, China. It’s been about a year since I have seen you. Three years since I moved to China to work abroad. Five years since you moved out.
I know you miss me, even though you don’t call and you only text once in a while. But I know you think about me. I remember last summer and my final night in California before leaving to return to Beijing, you dropped me off at Mom’s apartment. We awkwardly patted each other’s arm as I got out of the car and walked up the stairs to her apartment.
After I was inside, you sent me a text and asked me to come back out. You were standing outside in the dim streetlight and sheepishly said you wanted to give me a hug, since it might be a long time since you’d be able to hug me again.
Growing up, all I ever wanted to do was please you. I craved your approval in everything I did; I said the things that I thought you wanted to hear, about how thankful I was to be adopted, about how grateful I was to God for bringing our family together. I worked hard in school and got good grades, you’d tease me and say that it is because I’m Asian that I’m smart. I didn’t understand what that meant, nor the meaning when you said that everyone at school is probably jealous of how skinny I am and how silky my hair is — after all, I’m Chinese.
We never talked about where I came from; we never talked about China, except for the one day a year when we would reminisce about the day you and Mom first saw me. I would get out the tape of your travels to Changsha, Hunan, China and sit in between you and Mom.
I always squirmed and wanted to cover my ears every time you’d say how dirty and crowded China was. I didn’t want to focus on those parts of the video; I wanted to fast-forward to the part where you and Mom first saw me and the silly, happy look on your faces.
But then the tape would abruptly cut to one of the Chinese staff asking for the “required” donation to the orphanage. I remember clearly one year you jokingly say that it was the best money you had ever spent. Something twisted inside of me because I knew you meant it as a heartfelt comment, but it sounded so strange to me.
After you and Mom split up, I felt an increasing burden to take care of you and to protect you. I didn’t want you to be alone. I wanted you to be happy, because my happiness felt dependent on yours. And I knew you were happy when we spent time together, hiking outside, long road trips, hours spent at the bookstore, or going out to eat. We could talk about almost anything, at least anything you wanted to talk about.
It became weirder the older I got and when we went out to eat. Middle-aged waitresses would comment on how cute of a couple we were, we’d try to laugh it off, but those comments always sat there with me. I don’t know if they bothered you as much as they bothered me.
When I decided to move to China to work abroad, I know you hoped it would be for a short period of time. I never thought I would be here this long.
But I had always wanted to come back to the country of my birth, I wanted to come as a family and I thought that would happen someday. But it didn’t, and I was tired of waiting. I was tired of trying to take care of you and Mom, trying to make things better for our family, trying to ignore the tension between you two, the strain in the relationship. I can’t be the daughter you think I am and know me to be. I know in your eyes you only see me as your daughter and that’s supposed to be enough. But then I got to college and I moved away and it wasn’t enough anymore.
I’m no longer seen as the little Chinese girl with her adoptive family, instead I’m the young Asian woman who doesn’t understand Chinese culture but is a surprise to people because my English is so good.
I remember coming home the first time after being away at college and seeing our neighborhood, our church, and our grocery stores with new eyes. I would look around and realize I was the only Asian person there or that the only other person of color I could see was the person packing our bags or washing the floor.
Even though college was hard and I struggled to find a place in the Asian American community, coming home was even harder. I couldn’t fit into the mold of who I used to be, as much as I wanted to.
Being in China has been so good for me. I can get on a bus and I’m not the one who stands out. It is the white foreigner who hops on next that is stared at and I get to just pass. I’ve never had this experience before, the ability to blend into a crowd, to not be first judged by my race.
I walk the streets of Beijing and I see Chinese men and women from all sorts of backgrounds doing incredible things and I feel a swell of pride. My time in China has given me something you and Mom have never been able to teach me, a sense of pride in who I am and where I come from.
Yet as much as I resonate with being part of the landscape in China, I still will never fully fit in. I am still on the outside here, not Chinese enough for the locals and not foreign enough for the expatriates. I’m tired of being invisible.
And while I’ve learned a lot these past few years in China, I’m ready to come home now. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve grown a lot. I feel like a different person; I am a different person than when I left. But I’m scared to see you again; I’m scared of what our relationship will look like now. I’m afraid you will be disappointed in the person I have become, because it has taken me further away from you. But I can’t go back now, I have seen too much, experienced too much, to ever be that innocent and naïve little girl again.
I hope that you can be open and accepting of who I am now. I hope that you can recognize how much China is a part of me. I hope you will be willing to see how race and color affect me differently than it will ever affect you.
I hope you will be sensitive to hear how much hurt adoption has caused me. And I hope you will remember that no matter what, I love you and I always will, it just looks different now.
Love your daughter, Kelsi
Kelsi Macklin was adopted from China at the age of 2 years old. She spent 3 years working and living abroad in Beijing after graduating from college. She is currently in her first year of her MSW program.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter
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