Writer and children’s book author, Dee Thompson, has an essay featured in Suzanne Kamata‘s collection of essays on multicultural mothering, Call Me Okaasan. The essay depicts her journey into motherhood after a visit to a Russian orphanage where she first met her daughter. Dee’s essay focuses on the cultural, linguistic and emotional elements of adopting older children born in another country. She blogs about her adventures in multicultural mothering at the Crab Chronicles and has a forthcoming book about adopting her daughter and is the author of a children’s book about a young boy who comes to America to live with his new, adoptive family.
Your essay, “Mothering My Russian Speaking Kids”, portrays the amazing story of how you unexpectedly met your daughter when asking where to find a restroom at an orphanage and of how you later adopted your son. In the essay you describe experiences with friends who doubted your decision to adopt. You also speak to the awareness that there might be language and cultural challenges. If you met a mother today who was embarking on a similar multicultural mothering journey – adopting an older child from a foreign country– what advice would you give to her?
Dee: My advice would be to seek out adoption websites, and do a lot of reading. I must have read 10 books about adoption and adopted kids, trying to get a handle on everything. Talking to other parents is the best thing, though. I formed an informal parents’ group here in Atlanta and we get together and socialize twice a year. It’s amazing how quickly parents bond.
The first thing I’d say to anyone, as a practical matter, is learn the child’s language. Really make a big effort. Communication is key to the child feeling safe and welcomed. Also, don’t take them to the mall the second day, or to big parties or gatherings. Give the child some adjusting time, keeping things very low key for the first few weeks, then gradually introduce them to new things. Read up on attachment and how best to bond with the child. At first, try to have some foods that are familiar from their country. Read my children’s book Jack’s New Family, for an idea of how the child feels.
Each essay in this collection makes me think about a new aspect of multicultural mothering. Was there another essay in the collection which helped shed some light on your experience? Or from which you gained a deeper understanding of your own experiences as the mother of two children from Russia ?
Dee: I enjoyed all the essays. My experience is so different than most, however, I couldn’t relate to some the situations, and by that I just mean I haven’t been the one trying to fit into a different culture, my kids have. There were plenty of general things in common, though, like, do you try and get the child to keep their language, or just let the new country’s language prevail? How important is it to retain the birth country culture? Should I tell my kids they are Russians who live in America, or Russian-Americans, or just Americans? (My son is from Kazakhstan but ethnically Russian.)
Honestly, my biggest issues in the beginning were not cultural, but adoption related. My kids didn’t know table manners, or how to function in school, and they were frightened of things I never expected. My daughter had seldom ridden in a car, and huddled on the seat in a ball, hiding her face in fear, right at first. My son had rarely ever eaten meat in his life, and I had to get him to eat more meat so he would grow, because he was so tiny.
So I appreciated the book more as a whole, than any one particular piece.
As a writer who writes about mothering your children, how do you determine what you should or shouldn’t share about your family’s personal experiences?
Dee: I tend to err on sharing a lot, but I am always editing myself when I write my daily blog, The Crab Chronicles, and that carries over into my books. I want to present a realistic picture of the issues we face, but not write anything my kids will hate later. My kids have always known I write about them, and why, and that helps. I mainly write so that other adoptive parents can see they aren’t alone, and to encourage people to adopt older kids.
None of our close friends or relatives read the blog, so my kids are never confronted about anything. I don’t advertise it to their teachers or friends, for example.
Please tell us about the writing of this essay. Did you write it specifically for this anthology, or was it something you had crafted previously? How did you learn that Suzanne Kamata was seeking work for this collection?
Dee: I saw a notice on a website, Literary Mama, that Suzanne was looking for essays and I just thought I’d try to write it and see if it fit what she wanted. Most people have no clue how it is to be a multi-cultural adoptive mother, so I thought there was a chance to bring awareness, and hopefully subtly encourage people to adopt.
I’m also curious about your writing process and how you arrived at this final piece. Did your work begin with a word prompt, a free write, or an image in your head, maybe an assignment in a workshop?
Dee: I have to write mostly early in the morning or late at night, or sometimes at lunch, so I have to just start in and write. I cannot outline anything, I just have to plunge in. I do re-read and edit myself a lot before I submit anything. Suzanne also had some good suggestions after she read it.
I understand you also have a forthcoming book, Adopting Alesia: My Crusade for My Russian Daughter, about your experience adopting your daughter. Please tell us more about this book and your experiences writing and publishing it.
Dee: When I was adopting her I couldn’t find anything by another single mom adopting an older child, or anything, really, about adopting an older child from a foreign country. Everything was about babies. So I feel there’s a need to shed some light on the process generally, and I think my story is reasonably intriguing.
I met my daughter in 2003 and I was not looking to adopt. I was single, never married, childless, but I wanted a family. I was invited to sing Handel’s Messiah with a choir traveling to Russia to sing with the Khabarovsk symphony. I dreamed one night of seeing a little girl in an orphanage and knowing she was my daughter, but there were no orphanage visits scheduled. The next day, our concert canceled and we ended up singing at my daughter’s orphanage. She was the child from my dream. I had a powerful feeling that God was telling me, this is your child. Figure out how to get her home.
When I got back to the states I was astonished to learn she was 11 years old. She was tiny and emaciated and looked about 8. I still felt strongly she was mine, though, whatever her age. I had a lot of obstacles to her adoption, though. I got laid off from my job, broke up with my boyfriend who didn’t want kids, had to find the money, had to deal with an orphanage director who didn’t like Americans, and some friends and co-workers thought I was crazy, etc. There were a lot of huge hurdles to jump before I could get my daughter home. It was all worth it, though.
Finally, for those of us who are writers seeking places to publish our words, what advice do you have about getting published?
Dee: All I can advise is to make friends with Google! The internet has tons of writing opportunities, but you have to seek them out.
Thank you to Dee for sharing her experiences as an adoptive mother and as a writer with us here at Motherlogue!