Tatyana McFadden Wins the Boston Marathon, Again!

Congratulations to Tatyana McFadden, who today won the Boston Marathon, Women’s Wheelchair Division, for the second year in a row!

Last year, Tatyana won not only the Boston marathon, but also the New York City, Chicago, and London marathons. Plus she participated in the Sochi Olympics, where she won a silver medal in Nordic skiing. So incredible.

Tatyana’s story is inspiring. A brief biography: She was born in Russia in 1988 with a condition called spina bifida. If children with spina bifida have surgery right away, the condition is usually not life-threatening. Tatyana had surgery at 21 days old: it’s a sign of her resiliency and inner strength that she survived. After surgery, she was placed in an orphanage where a wheelchair was not even a possibility. Tatyana learned to use her arms as legs and walk on her hands to move. Her mom, Deb McFadden, met Tatyana in the orphanage in 1994, and Tatyana came to the United States at 6 years old.

Deb is a longtime friend of mine, and I love her and her 3 daughters, all adopted, all active talented girls. Tatyana has participated in many sports, focusing on wheelchair racing. In 2004, she was the youngest member (15 years old) of the USA track team at the Athens Paralympic Games, winning a silver and bronze. Since then, she’s won many world competitions, including being the first person to win 4 major marathons in one year.

Resiliency, strength, perseverance, joy, faith, determination: Tatyana has it all. She’s a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts. She gives much time and energy to charity work, with other athletes and for children.

She is power personified, combined with elegance, enthusiasm, and warmth.  Congratulations for yet another amazing accomplishment, Tatyana.

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Adoptive Parents: It’s 2013. Do You Know Where Your Kids Are…Searching?

Long ago, the biggest issue facing many adoptive parents was how to tell their children they are adopted, and to help them process and understand that.That’s certainly still important. Parents have to be aware of developmental stages, of children’s questions and silences, and of how to share information appropriately.

The Very Big And Common Questions are these: Why was I adopted? Where is my birth mother now? Do I have brothers or sisters?

When sharing information with their children, adoptive parents, of children from the US or from anywhere in the world, can no longer rely solely on what was given to them by the adoption agency at the time of placement. That information may or may not be accurate, may or may not have been translated accurately, may or may not be complete, may or may not be outdated quickly.

It all becomes startlingly irrelevant in the face of the Internet: the gaping maw; the dark labyrinth; the source of information, rumors, unchecked lies. And perhaps your children’s main activity.

While lawmakers across this country continue to deny adopted adults their basic civil/human rights–access to their own birth certificates–plenty of people are searching and reuniting with their first families.

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Adoptive parents should be with their children on the journey to search for first family. In the case of international adoptees, traveling to the country of origin is hardly the only way to learn one’s story. Parents should be offering to assist, letting their child guide them, but being responsible, aware parents. This is most important during pre-teens and teenage years, when kids are knowledgeable about Internet use, wondering about their past, and struggling to figure out their identity. Some kids won’t want to search; some won’t be ready.  And some will be searching on their own.

A few realities:

*  As an adoptive parent, you have some control over what your child does on the Internet. Short of denying access at all, you will likely not have complete control. And if you deny access at home, your clever child can easily access the Internet in the library or at a friend’s house or on a friend’s phone. So learn and monitor and talk about it.  A lot.

*  Your child could easily be contacted by members of his or her birth family. This is an increasingly common occurrence.  Your child may well have Internet-agile siblings in other parts of the country or world.

*  Secrecy in adoption has never really helped anyone.  We don’t need a new spin on this of adopted children (teenagers, young adults) secretly searching and lying about it. We need parents who partner with and support their children on this complex journey.

*  Surprises are also not usually a goal in an adoptive search, though they are often an element. They make reunions even more complicated. The decision to search should be done thoughtfully, transparently, and patiently–and with loved ones helping out.

*  Once people find each other, which can happen quickly, that’s nowhere near an end.  It’s an enormous, complicated beginning. No one should be alone for that either, especially a young person.

There are approximately a zillion resources available for searching. Facebook, Google, and Tumblr are the most obvious, and probably the most common. Here are some other sites.

An excellent starting point is PACT: An Adoption Alliance. Here is their terrific list of resources for search and reunion.

An overview of search and reunion issues is on adoption.com.

International Soundex Reunion Registry This is a mutual consent registry–both parties have to register for a connection to be made. If the birth parent has registered here, it’s possible to make a quick connection.

Another source is the American Adoption Congress. They have extensive information about adoption reform, including facilitating reunification with birth family. AAC has state reps who can help navigate the state laws that control access to birth records (the laws vary for every state).

There’s a group called Adoptees in Search that’s based in Colorado; much of the info is about Colorado, but their site has additional information.

This site G’s Adoption Registry has information about “Search Angels,” folks who volunteer their time and skills to assist people searching for birth relatives. They usually work for free. Some are astonishingly knowledgeable and helpful; it can be a mixed bag.

Parents can and should look into some of the DNA services. If you or your child take a basic DNA test, the data can be included in a huge database, and it is possible to connect with (previously unknown) relatives. Of course, there are a lot of considerations in doing this. I wrote this blog post recently that gives further information and resources.

And if you think the power of Facebook in America is a big deal, have you looked at social media around the globe? Heard of VK? According to Wikipedia:

VK (Originally VKontakte, Russian: ВКонтакте, literally “in contact”) is the biggest social network service in Europe, it is available in several languages but popular particularly among Russian-speaking users around the world, especially in Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Belarus, and Israel. Like other social networks, VK allows users to message contacts publicly or privately, create groups, public pages and events, share and tag images, audio and video, and play browser-based games.

As of December 2012, VK has at least 195 million accounts. VK is…the second most visited website in Russia. In December 2012 VK had an average of 43 million daily users.

I know of adoptive parents of Russian-born children who have searched and located birth family members via VK. I know of adoptees who have been contacted by siblings, some known about previously, some not. Translation services abound on the Internet, so it’s possible to easily send messages even without knowing another language.

I’d guess that the VK model will become more prevalent in other hemispheres as well.

It’s a small world. Live in it with eyes wide open. Be with your children on their journey.

Boston and Russia, Criminals and Children

When the 2002 Washington, DC, sniper serial killer turned out to be a black man, many black friends of mine held their breaths. How would racism manifest against them, since a black man had wantonly and randomly murdered 10 people, and his face was appearing all over the TV and newspapers? The Korean community went through similar issues after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. All too often that is how racism works, after all: one person’s depravity or bad behavior or clothing choice gets linked with race and ethnicity, especially if he or she is a person of color.

Today, police in Boston have shut down several cities in pursuit of the Boston marathon bombers, who allegedly are Russian, from Chechnya. I’ve seen lots of posts about Muslim terrorists, crazy Chechens, Russian thugs.

And so I’m thinking of the parents of children adopted from Russia. Like many parents, they are now having conversations with their children about dealing with fears after the bombing (the barrage of grim photos, the interviews with victims, the total press coverage). They are also now talking perhaps with their children about the fact the bombers may be from the same place the children are from. What will other kids say to them? How will other parents look at them? What stereotypes will be visited upon the children, as a result of a tragic, random act?

It’s a painful and unfair burden sometimes to represent one’s race or ethnicity. When my children went to college, and were the only ones of their race in a classroom, they’d occasionally be asked to speak on behalf of the entire African-American race. “Representing” can be a double-edged sword.

In the case of adoptive parenting, the challenge to both celebrate the child’s heritage and to acknowledge the stereotypes and negative views around the child’s race/ethnicity is huge.

So my heart goes out to Russian children today, and to their parents. I know how hard it is to shelter one’s children from the realities of racial profiling and generalizations, and I know how important it is to equip children to deal with them in a positive, proactive way.

May we all find peace and healing in this world.