Try not to be shocked y'all, but I'm going to blog about something and I might catch a little flack for it. That's not normally my style, I pride myself on this being one of those nauseatingly "happy" and non-confrontational blogs that so many folks dislike, you know, because it's not "real" and all? Well, I watched the documentary, "Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy" for the first time last Thursday night, and let me tell you, it was real with a capital R. At times, it's not easy to watch. I cried for Faith, I cried for my girls, I cried for all the children in China (and all over the world) who have been taken away from everything they've ever known and thrust into a new family in a new country that was nothing like the one they left. This might be a good time for me to add that I, by NO means, consider myself an "expert" on adoption. I'm a mom who has two daughters from China, one of whom was "older" when she joined our family, but I know better than to confuse my experience with expertise, so keep that in mind as you read my thoughts on this documentary.
I've been reading quite a bit of the discussion that has been going on all over the internet about this and I have to say that I am quite shocked at some of the criticism that the Sadowsky family, specifically, the mom, Donna, has received. What really bothers me is that a lot of that criticism is coming from people who haven't experienced what this family did. Now, I'm not saying that if you haven't adopted (or adopted an older child) that you can't express your opinion on this documentary, that's not it at all. I do find it unfair though, that one can watch 76 minutes out of 17 months of a family's life and deem the mother cruel, heartless, and ill-prepared for her daughter's adoption. I've seen post after post breaking down everything Donna did "wrong" with her daughter. My how easy it is for us to sit in a place of judgement and point out all of the "mistakes" of others after the fact. I can GUARANTEE you that if there had been a camera crew following my journey to China to adopt Jacey and her first year and a half with us, there would have been many moments captured that I would not have been proud of later. Let's just say that if the incident one night at dinner in Guangzhou where Jacey spent half an hour sitting under the table crying because I refused to let her have yet another Coke that day, had been captured on film, I'm sure I'd have been viewed as "harsh" too. No doubt the part earlier in the day when I let her have one Coke (even though I don't let my kids drink Coke at all) would have ended up on the cutting room floor. And I can think of other moments right off the top of my head that, especially if they'd been taken out of context, would not have earned me a Mother of the Year nomination.
I'm not saying that there weren't moments when I disagreed with how Donna was handling things, because there were. Did I feel that Donna was harsh at times with her new daughter? Yep, I felt that too and I cringed when she insisted that Faith "sit up" and get back to work on the English flash cards. But I also knew that we weren't seeing the whole story, how could we, in only 76 minutes, possibly know what was happening between Donna and Faith for the entire 2 weeks they were in China or in the 17 months after she was home? The simple truth is that we couldn't possibly know. I've read comments from Donna, since this first aired, that stated she had no editing rights to this documentary and that she knew after watching it for the first time that she was not being portrayed in the most flattering light. The most difficult moments were the ones that made the final cut. Adopting an older child is hard for everyone involved, especially in those first weeks and months. Even in the best of circumstances, when both the parents and the child are prepared as well as they can be, it's hard. Although I do wish the film maker had shown at least a few more positive interactions between Donna and Faith, if this documentary had been all sunshine and smiles, I wouldn't have seen it as a very accurate or realistic portrayal of what most people experience when they adopt an older child.
For those who have commented that Donna should've learned Chinese before she adopted Faith, well, yes, in a perfect world, that would have been wonderful. For every adoptive parent from every country around the world to learn their child's language before they meet them would be ideal. Unfortunately in the real world, or at least in my real world, that would not have been practical. I signed up for Rosetta Stone after we received Jacey's referral and I learned a few basic words and phrases before we left (and it seemed to me that Donna did that as well) but there is no way I could've been fluent, or even remotely conversational, in Mandarin in only a few months. Learning Mandarin (or Cantonese, or any other dialect spoken in China) is extremely difficult and the notion that one is only fit to adopt an older child if they've studied and acquired the language is, in my humble opinion, completely unreasonable.
After seeing Wo Ai Ni Mommy once, I decided to watch it again, and the second time I watched it with my girls, because I thought it would be interesting to get their take on it. Adoption is something that's openly discussed in this house, always has been, so I had no hesitation in allowing them to view it. The girls, of course, took away very different things from the story. Jaden, who was only 10 months old when she was adopted, understandably was more focused on the cute Hello Kitty pajamas Faith was wearing, how long her hair had grown, her fun birthday party, and the cool Barbie car that the girls were driving than on the interaction between Faith and her family. She did say she felt sorry for Faith when she was sad, but obviously can't really compare Faith's experience to her own given the drastic difference in the circumstances of their adoptions. [and let me add that I'm not saying there isn't "loss" involved in infant adoption as well, I'm simply pointing out that there is a huge difference in the experiences] But for Jacey, who was almost 6 when she was adopted, it was much more personal and emotional. I stole a glance at her face as she watched Faith meet her new mom for the first time and I could see the empathy in her eyes. She'd been there and done that, and though she didn't react quite the way Faith did, I have no doubt that she remembers just how nervous and overwhelmed she felt meeting us for the first time. The scene that really got to Jacey though (and I knew it would), was when Faith was in the bedroom sobbing that she wanted to return to China. Jacey held my hand tight while tears streamed down her face. You see, Jacey too, had sobbed and said those same words to us, more than once. And even though before we adopted Jacey I was prepared for the fact that she'd probably feel that way at times, it didn't make it any less heartbreaking for me to hear it. At that moment in the documentary, my heart ached for both Faith and Donna.
I asked Jacey a few questions after the show was over and here were her answers.
Me: Do you think Faith's mom was too hard on her at first?
Jacey: Yes, sometimes.
Me: Do you think I was too hard on you when we were in China and after we first got home?
Jacey: Yes, not all the time, but sometimes. I didn't like all the rules.
(I could probably do a whole other post about this comment and Jacey's expectations and pre-conceived notions about what life in an American family would be like, and maybe someday soon I will)
Me: Like the time I wouldn't let you have the Coke?
Jacey: (big smile) Yes.
Our conversation continued from there and as hard as it was to see Jacey cry while we watched this together, it sparked a discussion that I'm sure we'll continue to revisit in the coming weeks and months, and I'm thankful for that. Even though Jacey's been with us for almost five years now, each time we get the opportunity to have discussions like these I learn a little more about the experience from her perspective.
There is no "perfect" way to prepare for the adoption of an older child (or any age child for that matter) and there is certainly no "perfect" way to parent them. I think Donna, and most parents out there, would agree that we do what we think is best for our children at the time, and yes, we make mistakes, it's part of the process. While we're all going take away something different from this documentary and there are going to be varying opinions on it, some of support, some of harsh criticism and some that fall in between, I, for one, respect the Sadowskys for being willing to share their family's experience so publicly. It was, at times, heart-wrenching to watch, but it was real, it was authentic and my family could relate to it on many levels.
If you haven't seen "Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy" and would like to view it, it will be available online until November 30th. Grab some Kleenex and click here.
Back to regularly scheduled "happy" programming now. Or maybe not? Maybe I'll actually publish that post I wrote a while back about why we still recognize our girls' family days...