Scars are signatures of painful events in the life of our bodies. They are a reminder that informs us that we are not always in control of our lives. I have many scars. Scars on my hands from bee stings received while playing hide and seek; a scar on the lower right side of my abdomen created by a surgeon’s scalpel to remove an angry appendix; and a scar on my left arm as a result of being “cleated” while playing football.
Of all my scars, I have a favorite, the scar on my left knee. When I was almost three years old, I was running through the house and tripped and fell on my sister’s toy sewing machine. It was made from metal and had a sharp edge on the base. The gash was severe, and the blood began to flow. My father took a sheet, began ripping it, and wrapped my knee to stop the bleeding. What I remember most was sitting in his lap with my mummified leg, being comforted by his big hands. I will never forget his hands. Those hands are forever etched into my memory as a visual reminder of my father’s love.
More than anything, I want to be able to speak and understand and sing in my mother tongue. I want to be able to write poetry and love letters in Chinese. I asked my mom why I was never able to take lessons growing up and she said that it was because the Chinese classes that were offered were far away, maybe an hour’s drive, and it was inconvenient.
It hurts me that I wasn’t able to learn my birth language out of convenience.
I once read an article with research suggesting that there is something that activates in adoptee’s brain when they hear their native language that doesn’t activate for other people who didn’t grow up hearing that language as an infant. This means that my mother tongue lives not just in my bones, but also in my brain.
Yet, there has been so much holding me back. Fears like: What if I’m not able to learn Chinese? What if I sound like the white people who try to learn Chinese who don’t understand what tones are? Or what if it’s something that I can’t relearn? Maybe English has taken over so much of my brain I have no more space for that part of myself.
I stared at the form in front of me, tapping my pen. My legs shook. I cleared my throat and looked around the room. Swirly patterns of blues, greens, and browns surrounded me. Have you ever noticed how all hospitals and waiting rooms use the same neutral palette? As though, earth tones are going to help someone find their zen during a medical crisis. At that moment, the colors weren’t working.
The sterile scent of rubbing alcohol, the HGTV special on mute, the steady stream of indistinguishable chatter at the front desk…none of it helped my nerves. All 12 boxes on the form were still empty. I took a deep breath, and as always, marked every box N/A, then turned the page.
I host a podcast called Greater Than. I started this project to explore how people rise above tremendous challenges and find a greater way of being—discovering a purpose and a calling beyond their wildest dreams.
I’ve learned so much from listening to the stories of others who have gone through the toughest of times and, on the other side of pain, have uncovered the true meaning of life: serving.
When we look around us, as we approach the closing out of 2019, it seems that society has lost its way in the area of service. Greatness is viewed as having more than the next person: more accolades, more money, more strength, more power, more status. Greatness has never been about these things.
Kevin Hofmann is the author of the memoir, Growing Up Black In White. He is a trans-racial adoptee who describes his experience as “a unique way to grow up.” His family was part of the second wave of multicultural families created through transracial adoption, in late sixties America, with no role models to guide them.
We begin our conversation with Kevin taking us back to Michigan and the racial temperature into which he was born. He terms it, inside his memoir, as being born in “the middle of a racial hurricane.”
If you have breath, you have purpose. I love this quote! I don’t know who originally coined it, but I’m glad that they did because it’s true. If you are breathing, you are living, and that means you have a calling. A unique and individual purpose to carry out in this life.
We’re in the last month of 2019 and I want to remind you that you’re here for a reason. Finding that reason is what the journey of living is all about. Our ability to stay hungry on the hunt for our purpose is the challenge. So many things in life can dull our palates.
We sat in front of him, listening to the statistics of why we had a very low chance of conceiving on our own. All we could do was smile. That was it. It was the permission slip we were waiting for. The green light from a fertility doctor, giving us permission to pursue adoption. He gave us the facts about our treatment options and instead, we drove down the street and sat in on an adoption meeting for new adoptive families. Adoption had been on our hearts all along, yet we felt like we had to try everything else first. Like society expected that from us. Like we couldn’t announce our plans to adopt until we had exhausted every other measure. Like adoption was our Plan B.
I was a self-soother. As a young international adoptee, I would rock myself back and forth on the family room floor trying to re-connect with the rhythms of my birth mother.
It was instinctual. Like a lost animal in the wild, searching for its mother, the rocking was a primal ritual performed by a child looking for her home.
I don’t remember having an awareness of why I would lay there, rocking myself. I just remember that the behavior seemed to calm and comfort me. It made me feel connected to something real inside of me. Something I could not openly express.
Looking back, the rocking gave me a sense of control. When I rocked, I could feel my mum. It was the only time when I could feel her close. Rocking myself offered me certainty.
My heart sank as I watched her walk out of the room. She had birthed this beautiful child and was leaving empty handed. I was completely unprepared for the wave of grief that hit me as I realized this may be the only time we would ever meet. This is adoption.
By the time we met our daughter, we had experienced 3 years of infertility and 1 year of a tumultuous adoption process. Our tender hearts had been shredded with the pain of waiting and felt the dull ache start to erode our hope. It’s common for eroded hope to turn into fear, which is part of our story.
I have my moments. Those times when I wish adoption was not part of my vocabulary. If you’re an adoptee, do you know what I mean?
There are times when I wish that I didn’t speak the language of adoption so fluently. I suppose, like every person of adoption alive today, I have my dark hours of doubt.
I’ve never pretended that I wasn’t adopted. What I have done is lessened this part of my story—skimming over my adoptee chapters. Many times, in the past, I’ve looked the other way…but, the skin still follows. I live in the skin of adoption and I know the challenges of feeling uncomfortable in that skin.