Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Simple Piece of Paper Adoption Movie Review

In Jean Straus’ recent documentary A Simple Piece of Paper, she asks, “What if you were adopted, and could never see the record of your own birth? What would it feel like if your state finally let you have this simple piece of paper?”

Straus invites us into the stories of several adults – some in their thirties, some middle-aged, and some senior citizens, who receive their birth certificates for the first time. I struck by the sight of an adult adoptee who was brought to tears by receiving his original birth certificate for the first time at age 74. Even after a life has been nearly fully lived, questions of origin still seem to have remained powerful in the back of his mind.

These adults receive more than information, sometimes. One learned that she was the third of three children; she reached out and found a sibling, and explained while meeting him, “For 60 years I’ve wanted a brother. Now I’ve got one.”

This film is successful in connecting us with the emotions of the people who finally receive answers to lifelong questions. It’s particularly successful in that Straus’ subjects speak honestly and insightfully. Here are some of the more powerful statements that have stuck with me:

“Were you born on your birthday?”

“This will show that I was actually born.”

“The State has kept me from knowing who I am.”

We’re introduced to the impact of learning one’s birthname for the first time.  We see that a recurring theme is the question that many of these adult adoptees had been silently asking of their birthparents all their lives long, “Did you think of me?” When an answer is given to that question, it seems to always be, “Yes.” One man, Bill, now perhaps in his sixties, finally learns the name of his birthmother. She had kept him a secret from her family, and by the time he reaches out to his family, his mother has died. No one in his family knew about him, and yet, when they searched through the wallet of the family matriarch, they found, hidden behind a picture of a daughter that she raised, a photograph of Bill as an infant. She had carried his photo with her for sixty years. Even though she kept her secret, she thought of him.

Some of the adoptees had less happy outcomes. Some receive less information; some receive birth 
certificates where the names of father and mother were never filled out. We hear their pain and anger. Some are turned away by their families. Even through pain, one says, “If it’s incomplete, or not the answer you hope for, it’s still an answer.”

This short film captures pain and joy, rejection and reunion. It’s powerful and touching, and effectively shows the value of adoptees having access to their original birth certificates.


A Simple Piece of Paper is best suited to teens and adults. It’s worth seeing and worth sharing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Monkey Kingdom Adoption Movie Review

In a Sri Lankan jungle, rival tribes of monkeys compete for prime real estate. Within each tribe, there is a defined social hierarchy. Those with higher status (whether they earned it or were born with it) are afforded shelter in storms and the ripest fruits, those with lower status often must venture into dangerous territory to eat, and have a harder time ensuring that they can provide safety and nutrition for their babies.
 
In this charming, fun DisneyNature film, we follow one low-born monkey, called Maya, as she becomes a mother and then works to ensure the survival of her son, Kip.

How This Connects to Adoption

Monkey Kingdom is not an adoption story – Kip is born to, and raised by Maya. Kip’s father, Kumar, is absent for much of the film, but does return. There are some elements to the story that might resonate with some young viewers – and some parents – who have experience with adoption. For one, the film strongly establishes that it’s harder to raise your children successfully if you’re in a lower caste. It seems likely that more children in foster care come from families of lower socioeconomic status than most foster families. Kip is separated from his father for much of the film. The tribe loses their home and becomes homeless for a while. 

Perhaps the one scene that seems most likely to trigger some adoption issues – for birth parents and for children who have been in foster care or who have been adopted – is when Kip is kidnapped from Maya by three higher-class monkeys who wish to punish Maya for breaking the society’s code. We see Maya looking for Kip, and Kip crying out for his mother. They do eventually reunite, but I could see this being hard for some viewers.


Strong Points
The film credits Maya for allowing Kip to thrive. This could be very positive for children with a single mother, to give them a positive story of a single mom making things work.

The film shows that people (well, monkeys) can thrive in spite of being born into poverty, and can sometimes even rise above it.

Maya is described as being “consumed by unconditional love” for her son. It’s always great for kids (and adults!) to grasp how much – and how unconditionally! – they are loved.

After a long separation, Kip and Maya are reunited with Kumar.


Challenges

My wife, who describes herself as “probably a feminist” felt that the film was overly tilted towards Maya when it credited her for Kip’s success, while ignoring the legitimate contributions of Kip’s father.

Kids who have been neglected or who have lived in severe poverty might find it difficult to hear the narrator describe the plight of the “last in line… By the time your turn comes, there’s [no food] left.” Food issues are relatively common for kids in foster care; many kids hoard in an attempt to ensure that they’ll have something to eat tomorrow, and one or two scenes in this film might touch on that – the narration just mentioned, and another scene or two where the monkeys steal food from humans.

Kids who have been abused might cringe when they see high-status adult monkeys slapping Kip in the face when he acts out of line.

There are some scenes of peril, and some monkeys die, but nothing gruesome is shown.


Weak Points

In one scene, Maya is driven away from her son, and her son is carried away while Maya is brutally punished. Maya is separated from Kip for hours, and finally finds him, alone in the woods.


Recommendation

Disney does a great job of capturing candid scenes of life in the animal kingdom, which will delight many kids. Tina Fey’s comical but not over-the-top narration will engage adults. It is a fun film. There are some beautiful nature shots, and some moments that are fun enough to bring smiles and laughs. While there are some scenes that might come too close to being parallel with some painful experiences that might be familiar to kids who have been in foster care, many kids will like this one. It should be a good choice for kids ages 6 to 12, but parents with kids who have experienced abuse, neglect, or shortage of food, might want to watch the film first.
Monkey Kingdom opens on April 17.


Questions for Discussion

What is a parent’s job?

What made Maya a good mom?

What is it like to have a dad who’s not around, and then do have the dad come back?


Have you ever not had enough food? Do you ever worry that it will happen? What makes you feel less worried?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Divergent: Insurgent Adoption Movie Review

Tris Potter is on the run. Jeanine, the leader of an isolated city, has put out an order for the capture of all Divergents – people who don’t conform to one of that society’s five classes. Tris is a divergent, and is also wanted for a crime. Tris is not alone. She is accompanied by a young man named “Four” for whom she has romantic feelings. She’s also accompanied by her brother Caleb, and one more friend.

Will Tris be captured? If she is captured, what will happen to her? And why is it that some people don’t fit into the society’s classes?


*SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY*


How’s This Relevant to Foster Care and Adoption?

The world of Divergent reflects adoption in some sense. Young adults choose factions, and their factions become their new families.

*SPOILER ALERT* “Four” isn’t his real name. His real name is Tobias. He left his family and joined a new family (well, a faction), in order to escape his abusive father. Then, he took a new name. This reminds me of a kid’s journey into and out of foster care. In this film, Four reveals his real name, and in doing so, he is reunified with his birthmother. The reunification doesn’t go very well – she seems less interested in him than she is in what he can do for her. **END SPOILER**

Tris has lost her parents. A character reflects to her, “It’s hard to stand helplessly by while you lose the ones you love.” Some adoptees – and perhaps especially those who have been through foster care – might connect with this statement.


Strengths

Tris is carrying a lot of guilt over the loss of her parents. I can see this feeling relevant to some viewers who have been touched by adoption. In this film, she talks openly about her grief, someone suggests to her that the loss is not her fault, and she ultimately asserts that she will forgive herself. This could be a helpful, healing narrative to those people who feel unjustified guilt regarding their own loss of their parents (either through foster care or adoption.)


Challenges

When Four reconnects with his birthmother, he is surprised. He thought she had died. Their reunification is cold. She seems pragmatically interested in what he can do for her. He forbids her to call him by his birth name, and he tells her that she’s not his mother, that his mother is dead. When Four leaves, his mother speaks unkindly to Tris.

Tris threatens suicide in order to assert power over one of her oppressors. I’m nervous about teens seeing a beloved heroine holding a gun to her own head.


Weak Points

Some scenes could be very traumatic to younger viewers, or triggering to people with unresolved issues of parental loss. In a nightmare, Tris sees her deceased mother; Her mother is bleeding, and condemns Tris, “You killed us all.” 

Later, Tris is compelled to recount her experience of parental loss. It might be too heavy for some viewers, “I watched my mom, then my dad die. The were killed trying to save me… That’s what happens when people get close to me. They get hurt and they die.”

The film is violent. The last sound in the film is a fatal gunshot to the head of a defenseless woman.
There are scenes where people speak cruelly to Tris about the loss of her parents; this could also be hard for some viewers who mourn the loss of relationship with their parents.


Recommendation

Tris’ journey of self-forgiveness and healing could be very valuable to some of the teenagers drawn to this film, although there are some potential adoption triggers, and quite a bit of violence. Viewers will see her forgive herself for the loss of her parents, but will also see a cold reunion between another character and his birth mother, and will also be confronted repeatedly by the fact that Tris’ parents were killed. This might be a good film for teens ages 15 and up, but parents should be aware that their teens might be triggered. It would be a good idea to be proactive in asking how your teens were touched by this film. For younger kids, it’s probably too heavy and too violent.


Questions for Discussion

Is there anything you feel guilty about? Have you ever felt guilty about something that really wasn’t your fault? What helped Tris stop feeling guilty?


At the end of the film, Tris feels vindicated. Have you ever felt that way? 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Open Adoption Interview with Lori Holden - What to Do When Triggered By the Online Adoption Community


Openness isn’t just for infant adoption anymore. Even in the absence of contact with birth parents, openness can help parents connect with and be more accessible to their kids and help them grow up whole. In this interview, adoption movie critic Addison Cooper (AdoptionLCSW.com) interviews Lori Holden (LavenderLuz.com), author of the 2013 book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Kids Grow Up Whole Part 1 of a 3 part interview is shared here today.

Giveaway: We're giving away three hardback copies of Lori's book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Kids Grow Up Whole (cover price $29.95), one for each day of the interview. To enter, just sign up for Adoption at the Movies' free email subscription OR leave a comment below sharing some adoption blogs that have been helpful in your journey. Addison will pick all three winners at random on Saturday, April 11.

Also check out Part 2: Dealing with Common Fears about Openness in Adoption Part 3: Dealing with Adoption's Ghost Kingdom Part 1: What to do When Triggered By the Online Adoption Community ADDISON: Your book just had its 2nd birthday last week, and your two kids are now in their early teen years. What have you learned about adoptive parenting since your book came out, and would these new development have changed your book?
LORI: I’m realizing that if a child is going to have issues around his/her adoption (some will, some won’t –the determining factors are an unpredictable mix of nature and nurture) these issues will likely be there whether or not you have openness. By “openness” I mean not only possible contact, but also the way we parent, how open and vulnerable we make ourselves to our child. As you know, I have separated those two measures of contact and openness. It’s only partly true when you say you’re in an “open adoption” because you have identifying information and/or contact with birth family. Openness also refers to the degree to which you’re open to your child when she comes to you with questions, and how open you can be when responding in those moments. If I were to update The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, I would be more in tune with the notion that for some kids (not all), there may be issues that stem from the adoption itself, no matter how much openness there is. Openness prepares the family to deal better with the issues that arise, but it doesn’t solve or prevent all issues. Openness is better than closed, but adoption can still be really rough at times. ADDISON: That’s realistic, I would say. There’s no magic wand that makes anything completely easy or completely hard, but one’s preferable to the other. In your book, it sounded like the online adoption blogging community had been very helpful to you, and in fact, lots of adoption bloggers lent their voices to your book. How did you decide to start blogging, and how can the online community affect families touched by adoption? It can seem brutal at times. LORI: I started blogging because I read an infertility book, a memoir called Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein in the Spring of 2007. When I finished reading the book, I wanted to learn more about the author, so I Googled her and one of the first links that came up was to a blog called Stirrup Queens. Melissa Ford, the blogger, had just launched a book tour about Waiting for Daisy, and in the post announcing it she said, “all you need is the book and a blog.” I thought, “Well, I have the book, and I can create a blog.” So, I created a blog. As for how the online community can affect families involved in adoption, at times it can be very supportive and other times, as you say, brutal! It’s an act of self-preservation to develop healthy boundaries when interacting online -- to know when something’s not about you, and to not engage when something’s not about you. And when something IS about you, to be open to exploring how it is about you without becoming triggered or reactive. ADDISON: What are some strategies to avoid taking things personally that aren’t personal, and avoid becoming unhelpfully over-reactive? LORI: The image that I have is of the doctor checking you out with one of those reflex hammers, which she uses to tap you right below your kneecap. You don’t think about reacting, you just automatically kick – the original knee-jerk reaction. Sometimes what we see with online comments are knee-jerk reactions, where people react instead of respond. Information and processing isn’t going on in the higher levels of the brain, but rather we give a more visceral, un-thoughtful reaction – which is very different from a considered and chosen response. When you find this happening to you, stop and breathe. Breathing is always there for you, and it’s the thing that takes you back into your thinking mind. Breathing helps you realize, “I can tell by my reaction there’s something here for me. Why did I get triggered by this?” Such introspection can help you see into your own psyche – and begin to heal your own wounds. This wouldn’t trigger me if I weren’t afraid it was true. If you’re triggered by something you’re reading online, there’s probably something in you that needs to be dealt with -- and not just in the other person. For example, if somebody tells me that I have stinky hair, and I don’t have stinky hair, I’m not going to respond to it because it doesn’t make my knee jerk. But if someone tells me, “You don’t spend enough time with your kids,” I may feel like lashing out at the person who dared to point that out. Deep down, I do feel guilty for not spending more time with my kids and for being on the computer. Maybe I should be interacting more with my children, but HOW DARE YOU TELL ME. And I WILL MAKE YOU PAY FOR DOING SO! ADDISON: It sounds like the stuff that resonates within us either matches something we know to be true about ourselves, or something that we fear to be true about ourselves. LORI: Exactly right. When your child says, “You’re not my real mom” -- if you’ve already worked that through within yourself, then that is not going to stick to you. You’ll be able to say, “I understand that you feel that way, but I’m here and you’re stuck with me and I’m never going away” -- instead of deflecting the child’s feelings saying something defensive like, “I have a legal document TELLING YOU I’m your real mom!” You can address your child’s feelings better when you’re not triggered. When I examine myself and realize that I DO spend time on the computer, but I also talk with my kids a lot and am present for them, I have neutralized the fear and the accusation won’t stick to me. Or, maybe when I evaluate myself I find that something I read online DOES stick to me, it can serve as a call to rebalance where my attention goes. It’s important to think about the things that we react to, and look behind the feelings. That’s what the breathing does. It gives me that pause, that bit of space to turn a reaction into a response.
Giveaway: Enjoying this three-day interview series? Want even more insight into open adoption? We're giving away three hardback copies of Lori's book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Kids Grow Up Whole (cover price $29.95), one for each day of the interview. To enter, just sign up for Adoption at the Movies' free email subscription OR leave a comment below sharing which adoption blogs have been helpful to you. Addison will pick all three winners at random on Saturday, April 11.
Open Adoption Blogs