I first met Clio (“Da Hyun”, her Korean name; means “Brilliant Light”) in June 2002. She was 4 ½ months old. The last photo of Clio with Foster Mom, shows her anxious little face knowing that “something is up.” Even so, she was happy and bubbly when Pete and I took her with us, falling asleep in Pete’s arms during the taxi ride to our hotel.
When Clio woke up, she began crying, then screaming so loud and long that we were amazed they didn’t arrest us. For the rest of her life, Clio always woke from naps screaming. When she was 7, I asked her, “Why? What upsets you so much?” Clio told me that she didn’t know, yet I am convinced that something during her naps triggered the traumatic memory of being taken from the familiar arms, sounds and smells of Foster Mom and put into the arms of her new family.
Clio was always aware that she looked different from her parents. I remember giving her a bath when she was about 3, she kept washing my hand and arm with a cloth. She told me she was going to wash my skin until it was the same color as hers. Clio always knew she was adopted. When Clio was less than 2, she asked me, “Where Clio come from?” I said, “Korea.” She immediately went to the bookcase, pulled out a picture book of Korea and said, “Where Clio?” For a while she thought we bought her. I told her you cannot buy people. I told her the story of her adoption. It was a nice story, but she always knew most of her friends had a different story. Eventually her school friends began asking her about the difference.
“Who is your real mom?” they would ask. “Where is she?” The children were just being uninhibited and curious. During her last summer Clio asked me, “What is my tummy mom’s name?” Adopted kids sometimes have attachment issues, sometimes wonder where they fit into the world, wonder about their race and ethnicity, wonder where they came from and why they entered their new families — and much more. These are all normal questions, but it’s hard to know what it feels like to face these questions unless you’ve been in their shoes. These issues should be addressed in a healthy way that helps adopted children feel good about themselves. I learned all this from my years with Clio, and it led me to think of the camp that bears her name.