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Thursday, February 25, 2010

A little bit of progress on the lifebooks, but not enough

I'm still dragging my feet on the actual writing part of these lifebooks. Why do I do that? As soon as something is the tiniest bit hard, I find a million "but, what if..." excuses to avoid working on it. Well, I'm rejecting the "what if it sucks, I can't start until I have it exactly right" excuse right now and just going to go with this outline that I've been kicking around. It's not perfect, but it's good enough to start with: 1. Date / Letter to child (this is the story of you...) 2. How families are formed (include kid-friendly definition of adoption) 3. It all started in china / World map 4. Before you were born, you grew in a special place (O'Malley words) / Your birthdate 5. Chinese zodiac (your birth year and other family members’ years) 6. Info about China (also include many of our favorite things come from China) 7. Your city 8. Why you were placed for adoption 9. Pictures of you as a baby and stories of date found 10. Orphanage information / Chinese name information 11. Foster family information 12. Process of adoption (from baby's point of view) 13. Orphanage director took steps to find a forever family / Finding ad 14. Monthly pictures for that first year (we received an album full of pics when we adopted the girls) 15. Adoption paperwork / What we did in the adoption process 16. Referral day 17. Choosing your name (american, chinese, last name) / Getting ready for the trip to China 18. Flying to China (grandparents came too) 19. Meeting the family for the first time (include details interesting to child) 20. Signing the papers / pledging and promising 21. Final adoption process and medical checkup 22. China experience 23. Travel group / Red couch photo(s) 24. Plane ride home / Family thoughts 25. Our promise, our family, we are the lucky ones Different pieces of this outline come from all over: I've signed up for the Asialifebooks.org online group, have purchased a used copy of Bath O'Malley's LifeBooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child, and have been privileged to view a few precious copies of lifebooks people have written for their children (thank you thank you thank you!). Last week, I took Ro and Ree to the store and let them pick out their own 3-ring binders that will house their initial lifebooks. (Ro chose a multicolor striped one, and Ree chose an all-pink one, if anyone's curious.) So I am ready to write and to gather pictures/documents! My goal is to knock out 2-4 spreads a week. Hey maybe double that if TubaDad isn't traveling. First two spreads/topics for this week are "Letter to child (this is the story of you...)" and "How families are formed (include kid-friendly definition of adoption)." So, I'd love to hear the wording that worked for you to: * Introduce this book to your child * Say how families are formed * Say what adoption is (in a simple, single sentence that a kiddo can understand and maybe even repeat to his/her friends) And if I figure out anything great, I'll share that in my next post. Until then, here's to some prolific writing!


  1. Anonymous2/25/2010

    You know, I am not into the lifebook industry but it sure seems to me that your well written blog(and frequent blog entries)is the lifebook you are seeking. I'm wondering if you have gotten caught up in thinking that you must do something different because the idea of a lifebook is the "it" thing at the moment. You have documented Ro and Ree's lives beautifully in your blog and have tons of pictures so why not just consider your well-documented blog as their lifebook?

  2. i have to agree with anonymous--- do what is YOU-- not what the formula of the "correct" life books says you should have. for my sons and daughter from China- they have exactly what my bio kids have-- a photo album of their first year. i think your blog is YOUR lifebook-- if it's not coming out of you naturally- then it isn't you

  3. Emily and Anonymous--Something Emily writes makes the point about adoption lifebooks: "I think your blog is YOUR lifebook--".

    Well, yes. It's M3's lifebook. It's her story of how Ro and Ree have impacted her life. But it's not Ro and Ree's story. Ro and Ree didn't just spring out into the world fully formed and get dropped into the Tuba Family by some act of God or magic. They had life before that, and many adult adoptees are adamant that knowing about and being able to talk about that life before the adoption is vitally important.

    That's what an adoption lifebook is all about: Giving adopted children a narrative about their beginnings, an anchor point for them to discuss the ways that adoption impacts them, a tool for exploring questions about birthparents, abandonment, WHY.

    Ree and Ro are only four years old, so you may think that these things can wait until they're older, more able to do the abstract thinking that these issues require...

    I can tell you, though, that my dotter began talking about these issues very early on. Not a lot, but enough for us to know she had questions, worries, "issues" about the whole adoption affair. The lifebook approach has given her a story to look back on and base her life on, and has given us (her parents) tools to use to open up discussions.

    M3's blog is HER blog, not THEIR blog. It's HER story, not THEIR story. She's working on providing them as much of THEIR story as she can, and while her blog is delightful, fun, informative, and a chronicle of the girls' lives since they joined the family, it doesn't begin to fill the gap that is the girls' lives before the Tuba Family. Which is what an adoption lifebook is all about.

    Anyway, good on ya, M3. Do what feels right. Just be aware that putting together even the most cursory of lifebooks (that would be ours) can open up a can of worms: to wit, our dotter spent a great deal of time "giving birth" to baby dolls (and not via C-section! ;-) ) the first few weeks after I started reading her lifebook with her.

    Oh, yes, and be careful about pictures of Chinese women--the dotter assumed that one of the four example women pictures I gave was her birthmother...Um...Woops!

  4. Oh, I was just about to answer the first two questions, but OmegaMom beat me to it (and phrased it way better than I would have). Anyhow, the lifebook (in my non-expert mind) is "the story of your child," it's basically how she was born, why adoption happened, and how she came to be in your family. Things that every child deserves to know. Plus, (and this part seems really important to me), it's a book a child can read over and over, talk about with her parents, really understand, and hold onto. It's not an overwhelming 3000+ page blog about every topic under the sun. It's a clear, accessible, short, picture-filled children's book. I'm doing this for my girls, because I believe in lifebooks, but I'm also doing it for me because I have trouble with some of the topics that should be easy for me and aren't. I need to figure out how I want to say things and this lifebook, while hard for me to do, is a way of forcing me to take the time to figure this stuff out. I don't know why it's so hard for me to answer "What is adoption?" or "Did I grow in your tummy, mama?" or just talk in general about adoption even when they haven't asked a question, but I stutter and stammer and say the most idiotic things. Sometimes I just want to smack my head and take the words back! Anyhow, this (like anything) gets better if I practice it first, try things out, figure out what works and what doesn't, and really get comfortable with these topics, you know? Because the questions are just starting, they're not going to get any easier, and the girls are starting Kindergarten next year and I won't be the main/only person they hear things from any longer. Anyhow, so yes this is hard for me, but I think it's really valuable, both for my girls and for me.

  5. Thank you for your incredibly kind words about the blog, by the way! We sure do have fun with this ole blog, and someday (hopefully) the girls will get a real kick out of reading all the funny stories and looking at all the pictures.

  6. Anonymous2/25/2010

    I'm the anon that started this and I say go with whatever feels comfortable to you, not what the lifebook industry states **should** be in a lifebook. AND, take the lead from non adoptive mom and dads who do an excellent job of pulling together things for their kids to remember. They do not call it a life book. And, I still maintain as a longtime reader of this blog, that it is M3's narration of the life of Ro and Ree, not just M3's blog. I think we all, or most of us, take delight in hearing the words of Ro and Ree, the thinking of Ro and Ree, and the behavior of Ro and Ree. That to me, is a (full of) life book

  7. Don't push yourself too hard to make this happen quickly. I spent a full 12 months doing the writing pieces for my almost 4-year-old twins from Korea. It was so hard...but I ultimately feel comfortable with what we wrote. I would be happy to email you a copy of what we ended up with if you'd like (thenahras@gmail.com). Our girls aren't as into the life books as I would have thought but they I suspect their interest will increase as time goes by. To answer your questions, we say simply say that families are formed in lots of different ways and that they grew in their birth mom's tummy and then were cared for by their foster family until we could adopt them. They haven't asked what adoption is yet. They are sweetly satisfied with minimal info at this point. Best of luck, M3. Writing the books was highly emotional for me, but great practice in terms of being able to think about the girls' stories in a way that I will be semi-articulate when the questions start flying.

  8. M3 you said it so well why don't I start because I want to know it all and have it perfect before I mess it up. Your outline is great...thanks for bringing this up need to do as well.

  9. Anonymous2/25/2010

    I am planning on not being that detailed. We have kept all of our paperwork on Wen. But I am writing a emergent reader from Wen's perspective on Shutterfly.

    Right now that is what she needs.

    Good luck to you.
    Christy Bailey
    mama to 6 year old Wen
    adopted at 18 months July 2005

  10. Question about #14 on your outline...is this to mean monthly photos from her first year of life? (which do not exist since we got her at almost 3 years old) Or monthly photos form her first year with us? (which is totally doable!)

    Our process was different with SN (no referral, we chose her) and we don't have much early info to provide to her (found naked in an intersection). Even her birthday was made up. For all we know she could be +/- 3 months old. I think interjecting that sort of doubt to a child is earth shattering. I'd rather just keep the assigned birthday and not rock her world since she is so grounded now and doesn't care one wit about how she entered this world.

    This will be tough.

  11. we (ok-- I) do a lot of talking with our daughter and son-- amy knows she is adopted and is so spankin' proud of it-- she can spot a chinese person a mile away and loves to share her chinese words (actually- all my kids love to do that) whenever she asks me where she was when she was a baby-- we talk about it.. i'm not anti- lifebook- at all- i just think that for every family- HOW you share your child's history looks different--are you a talker? maybe you make a video recording. are you into pictures? (duh!) maybe you tell their story through pictures. i just hate to see you stress over it!

  12. I've found this process really emotional too-its hard to put all the love and care your feel for you kid into these books while simply telling their story. I love (so much!!) the list of things to include, ours is a little different because our kid is from Haiti, but same sort of outline. Thank you very much for writing that out. Good luck, its an intense process I think.

  13. Hi guys, thanks for all the support, as always, and to Mag and Emily thanks for not wanting to see me stress over it--man do I appreciate that! I alwaysalwaysalways stress over things (ugh) and have since I was a kid--am trying to get better and just go with the flow though.

    Copperdog, we were so lucky to receive two precious photo albums with monthly pictures of the girls from 4 days old up to the time of adoption. I think it was an unusual thing that our particular orphanage does, and have heard from other families who adopted children from our city that they received the albums also. We also sent a disposable camera over with our care package and got back some pictures of the girls and also pictures of the foster family. Priceless, every one.

  14. Anonymous2/25/2010

    I was wondering about #9...do you know why the girls were placed? If not, how will you address that uncertainty? That to me seems like one of the hardest pages to write.

  15. I think that maybe the best thing to do is to just have a go.. put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard and just start with a draft and go from there... I know for myself, when I fret too much and start researching too much I blind myself with too much information... just do it!

    Good luck!!

  16. You'll be able to do the books a little bit at a time. And when you're done, they'll be perfect, because they will have been done with a love like no other, that of a mother for her children.

    Thinking about you tonight.

  17. Hi Anon at 4:11: Yep, I agree, "Why you were placed for adoption" will be the hardest page (or spread) to write. We don't have specifics, and everything I've read says that you don't want to make things up. I'm going to rely heavily on Beth O'Malley's lifebook guide and also on the online group I've joined for age-appropriate, non-frightening examples and wording in this area. I'm a big chicken, so I'm not going to write anything that I'm not comfortable telling the girls right now. Which means it's going to be really high level. It will be a starting point.

  18. Anonymous2/25/2010

    At this age I would consider telling the girls there are many reasons grownups in China might decide to place their children in a location where they hope they will find a forever family. While you don't know why their parents made their decision, the most important thing is to make sure they understand that these are grownup decisions and they did not do anything wrong. Babies can't do anything wrong, etc.

  19. I just want to say Wow about those photo albums you received from the orphanage. What a treasure!

    I have a few of Tess from when she wa s in her CWI courtesy of CWI visitors from our orphanage group who later shared them (visitors usually took a photo of every child there when they visited and posted it in a Shutterfly album). But I would love more.

    I think it's cool what you are doing. I'm currently doing a Tess' first year album but this will not be her lifebook.

  20. Remember we have 2, one for a little child and another for an older version that she will become. I'll be talking about the little child one:

    the wording that worked for you to:
    * Introduce this book to your child

    "Once upon a time in China, a little girl was born. She had dark black hair and shiny brown eyes."

    * Say how families are formed
    "Her parents could not take care of her, so they brought her to an orphanage." (we expound on the whys of this every time we read the book...)

    * Say what adoption is (in a simple, single sentence that a kiddo can understand and maybe even repeat to his/her friends)

    I don't have this in the lifebook itself, but her definition is simple: My Chinese mommy and daddy couldn't take care of me, so you adopted me." My boys say, quite nonchalantly, "adoption is another way to make a family - to be a mom and dad to a baby that has already been born."


  21. M3,

    I rewrote Jamie Lee Curtis' "The Night You Were Born" to tell our story. It's not a lifebook because it doesn't talk about being abandoned or found or living in an orphanage but it does talk about a birthmother and us coming on a plane and its a fun way to tell the story of how we became a family.

    E-mail me if you'd like my text, which you'd of course have to re-work so it told your story not ours, but would at least give you an idea of what the heck I'm talking about. I then added photos and had two copies printed by MyPublisher.

    That's one other thing. I'd do this digitally. That way you can give the girls each real book that they can look at a million times but keep a pristine copy too.

  22. I wrote a toddler version life book for my oldest of the 3 youngest girls that were born in China. It was a very simple book that didn't have a lot of writing in it, it was very simple, but it help me greatly when I talked the "older" kid version. I still need to make the other girls theirs.. and now I have number 5 coming this summer. The groups that you have join are great, they gave me a lot of suggestions. I also download a lot of suggestions... Good luck

  23. Just curiuos if the first (and second) Anonymous poster is an adoptive parent? While I am trying to understand your point of view I still stand on the other side of the fence. respectfully.

    "take the lead from non adoptive mom and dads who do an excellent job of pulling together things for their kids to remember"

    True...however they can also tell their children the ENTIRE factual story of how they were born and everything leading up to the present.

    An adoptee's story has many, many UNKNOWNS. And while it's important to up adoptive families to share how we became a family and their childhood, we are also responsible to THEM to help THEM process and deal with their ENTIRE story...not just since we became their parents. Their story/life doesn't not begin with their forever family. Think of it as their lifebook PART I. It begins with grief and loss. Lifebooks are a tool for both the children and the parents to open communication and deal with how thier child is processing THEIR story. It's typically different then their lifebook PART 2/Scrapbook of childhood with forever family.
    Just my 2¢
    I do agree with you Anonymous on the point that M3 documents Ro & Ree's lives beautifully, doubt anyone would question that.
    Again, no judgement, but very curious if you are an adoptive parent yourself?

  24. Thanks for the excellent lifebook info. I so need to get started on this. MJ has a baby book style adoption book, fill-in-the-blank style, but I really know that she needs more. You're inspiring me to get started on this myself. :-)

  25. Hope this helps! I'll have to look in Mary's book when I get home, but the basics went like this:
    *Introduce this book to your child - This is the story of you -- how you were born, and how we came to be in the same family, and what has happened since then." Something like that. We actually then dive into when and where she was born and photos of her growing with her foster family and then cut to "On the other side of the world..." We address adoption more formally at that point, after we introduce her and her info.

    * Say how families are formed - Didn't bother with this at all! We have other books that are about the possible ways families are formed, and I decided this book was about HER first and foremost: so adoption is one piece of that but not the main piece, and the way families are formed in general didn't even matter for that book, as long as she knew.

    * Say what adoption is (in a simple, single sentence that a kiddo can understand and maybe even repeat to his/her friends) - "Then the next day we signed the adoption papers. When we adopted you, we were promising to be your mommy and daddy and love you forever and ever." (This carries a little more impact because Mary was in a foster family so there's some discussion earlier of how she was in a foster family who took care of her until her forever family came along.)

    Overall, I find that Mary, even at 5, is rather bored by the lengthier sections that discuss why she was put near a clinic to be found, and how we don't know the details. She understands it, and explains it to people sometimes, but she just doesn't care too much. She far prefers all the photos and short descriptions detailing major milestones for her -- being born/found, growing up in her foster family, having friends in China, meeting us in China, first plane flight, first time riding her trike, first day of school, getting heart surgery, etc. I've come to believe that the book is most valuable because it incorporates the adoption aspect of things into a larger, cohesive story about her life until this point, and makes it seem like one piece of the puzzle that is Mary.

    Good luck!


  26. Here's is some of the intro text from my daughter's lifebook (she was adopted at 10 months, so I framed the book as "Your First Year"):

    [Name], this is the story of your life, from when you were born in China to your first birthday in Canada. You probably don't remember what happened, because you were just a little baby!

    I didn't use #2 from your outline in our lifebook, just launched straight into my daughter's birth. I think that keeps the focus on her life rather than adoption, and lets you explain the adoption in the context of the story.