Thanksgiving thoughts


I hope everyone had a nice holiday weekend. This time of year is always an incredibly busy one for me and my family. There are several birthdays in my family between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition, I equate holidays with stress because my family is one that likes to discuss politics and religion and I am as far away from most of them in these two areas as one can get. It gets so bad that I’ve dubbed the holiday "Cranks-giving" because I typically come home crabby.

My daughter’s birthday was on Thanksgiving this year, and my birthday was Saturday. My daughter turned 13!  One of the best things about being a parent is getting to see who my children grow up to be. I love to watch their personalities develop. My daughter has developed into a wonderful person. It’s been such a joy to see her grow into her own skin.

The birthdays (my daughter’s and mine) are always stressful for me. I’m not sure if it’s this way with other adoptees or not. Every birthday I am sad. At first, as a younger person, I was sad for the reminder that my mother in Korea had no idea whether I was alive or not. And I had no idea whether she was alive or not. Each birthday, while my adoptive family tried to make it a special day, was always tinged with some sadness.

My first birthday in the United States landed on Thanksgiving Day in
1971. I turned 3 years old and my sister was 2 weeks old. I was newly
arrived and my adoptive mom had just given birth to my sister and I’m
sure it was very overwhelming for everyone. Since that day, my birthday
has always been celebrated on Thanksgiving, even though technically it
lands on turkey day only once every 9 years or so (leap year
contingent). To this day, most of my family members tend
to forget what day my birthday is supposed to be on. There have been
many years when not a single member of my family has called me on my
actual birthday.

Growing up, I knew that my birthday was likely an
arbitrary date made up by my orphanage. At least, that’s what I’d been
told. My name and birthday both were just "given" to me by some worker.
So beginning with that first thanksgiving in 1971 until the spring of
2000, I’d always claimed my birthday to be fake. That’s probably why
somewhere in time I began to dislike Thanksgiving as a holiday. It was
too much of a reminder that I was supposed to be grateful and thankful
for so many things in my life, yet never was there any acknowledgment
that it was also a day filled with tremendous loss.

This year was no different. Although in 2000, I traced back my records
and was able to discover that when I was abandoned in Daegu, South
Korea, I had a note tucked into my quilted jacket with my name and
birth date, the skeptic in me still lingers and I have a difficult time
believing that both the name and birth date are really mine. When I
changed my name back to my "original" Korean name two years ago, it was
my "birthday" gift to myself. I claimed both as a political act, a way
of re-claiming, if you will, of who I thought I was once and declaring
myself from this point forward.

What remains, however, is still this idea that I don’t deserve to
celebrate my birthday. So it is with great hesitation that I allow
people to make a special day of my birthday. I’m 38 years old and I
still don’t feel like celebrating. I am that person who
wants to hide under the covers until it all passes. I can’t take
compliments and I am embarrassed with that kind of attention. I would
rather place all the celebration on my daughter, because in her
I see all the joy and innocence I don’t feel I’ve ever had. Not because I don’t like getting older – I’ve benefitted greatly from appearing younger looking than I am. Even though my chronological age states "38" I neither look nor feel my age.

On Friday
night, I brought my daughter and 3 of her friends to the Panic at the
concert for her birthday present. In so many ways I still don’t
feel like a grown up, but at the concert I sure felt my age! My
daughter was beyond excited and I couldn’t help but feel a little of
that too.

I’ve come a very long way in the past few years. I feel like I’ve
earned 38 this year. I’ve been wondering when I was going to feel like
I was an adult. I think on Saturday I finally understood. So while it was a difficult birthday for me to accept this year, I feel a new phase of my life is starting to get its walking legs. It began two years ago when I changed my name. This year, I graduated from college. I also discovered the world of blogging and made several very important relationships with other transracial adopted bloggers. This year, there are many things I’m truly thankful for – and strange enough, getting older and surviving my life thus far is one of those things.

So who’s afraid of 40? Bring it
on. I’m just getting started.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

13 thoughts

  1. Happy Birthday to you and L! You really got a double whammy there with a major holiday. JL did too, being a New Year baby. It’s not as major a holiday as Cranksgiving but it comes on the tail end of the xmas and chanukah season and is a tough day to ask anyone to celebrate it with her. Still working on how to make it not a recurring nightmare for her. If you’d like to tell me privately how it could have been (in fact no need to post this at all.) if it had been handled better, please do!

  2. I think I mentioned else-blog how I feel about my birthday, and how much of a manic weirdo I felt like on my birthday this past year, so boy do I know what you mean! Before I was old enough to realize that my birthday might not have been my “real” birthday, I had no problem celebrating. After that, subsequent birthdays all went downhill, with a mix of apathy and depression.
    Anyway, if you’re this young at 38, I think you’ll have no problem kicking 40 in the keister. Here’s to a year full of accomplishments tucked under your belt, and many more to come! Happy (birth)days to you & the teenager!

  3. First of all, happy birthday! That was a really moving post. I like what you say about your life getting its walking legs.
    I know what you mean about the politics thing. I am going through that with my parents right now. Aargh!

  4. Happy Birthday to you and L. How cool is it that you get to celebrate your birthday with your daughter. I’m glad you both had a good time and hopefully Thanksgiving didn’t kick your butt too hard.

  5. Happy Birthday to you and your daughter!
    I appreciate this post very much, because it reminds me how important it is for me to really consider the impact of celebrations those of us who aren’t adopted take for granted. Thank you.

  6. (Belated) Happy Birthday, Jae Ran and L! I, for one, think your birthday should be celebrated to the fullest – because it is the day this super special person was born (hm, I wonder who?), claim it away, it is YOUR day. 40? Instead of admitting fear, I just pretend I’m still 22. Yep. 22. Okay, fine. 26. Give or take a decade…
    AND YES, DY is definitely a must. Mon, Tue, and Fri are usually more flexible… Let’s try something soon?

  7. Belated Happy Birthday to you and L! Ohh, Panic at the Disco! My daughter would be so jealous. I’m glad she doesn’t read your blog or I’d never hear the end of it!
    I’ve always had problems with my birthday for too many reasons. It’s on New Year’s Day which too all the air out of it when I was a kid. As an adult, I’ve come to pretty much ignore it. Real birthday or was someone just trying to be cute? Just another reminder of the loss that’s inextricable from my life as a TRA. Yes, I’m harping.
    It’s weird not the way I absolutely do not feel like the adult sometimes. It’s also amazing to see how aware she is about things like racism. She talks about things I didn’t even think about until I was an adult. I always thought my daughter and I would grow apart when she hit 13 but we’ve actually grown closer. It’s such a magical age and I’m amazed at the similarities and the differences between our experiences.
    I think both of you have turned out beautifully and you’re both still growing! Big hugs and cheers to you and L!

  8. Happy Birthday! My adopted daughter also celebrated her birthday this weekend (she turned 4). She joined our family 2 weeks before her 2nd birthday, so it is always a time of remembering that, as well. At this point, it is me who gets sad and emotional. I wish her birthparents knew how beautiful and strong she is – she was born with a heart deformity and had surgery soon after her second birhday.
    I am also 38 and am taking pre-reqs to enter a grad school program in a couple of years. I figure I’m just hitting my stride (it takes a little longer for some of us…) : )

  9. “Every birthday I am sad”
    FOR REAL! I cried my eyes out on Monday night…and then my dad pulled the good ol’ “when are you gonna finally get over this???”
    And then I cried some more…
    and you know how thanksgiving is…sigh…

  10. Jae Ran, this is such a poignant post. Birthdays are so “loaded” for adoptees, aren’t they? And to add it onto “Thanksgiving”… uh boy. But it’s great that your daughter can celebrate and you can share in that with her.
    My husband (not adopted) did not have a single birthday of his celebrated until he was in his 30s. I threw his first surprise birthday party and he almost died of heart failure. It really threw him. Birthdays can be so fraught.
    I (the adoptee) have had the opposite tack- I celebrate my birthday with a vengeance (pun somewhat intended). I feel like, YEAH I was born, and y’all (world) better get used to it! I’m not hiding! I’m not pretending I wasn’t born!
    My a-parents were really good about celebrating my birthday. When I went away to college, my grandmother would go out and buy a cake and they’d sing happy birthday to me over the phone and then eat the cake. (ha)
    Anyway Jae Ran, I am REALLY GLAD that YOU were born, and yeah! you are just getting started. Happy Birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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