It’s a Beautiful Mess

It’s surreal to think we’ve been out of quarantine for about three weeks. It’s both been forever and was just yesterday. Dragon, Monkey, and I all have things we strangely miss about our time locked in a hotel. Mostly we all miss the easy routine we fell into along with the sense of certainty of our expectations. Being out here in real Korea has had little in the way of those things. The safety and security (despite the heavy cabin fever we all experienced) isn’t easy to release in exchange for taking a half-blind leap into the unknown.

I had adequately set my expectations for what navigating through the country with two young children alone would be for me. I hadn’t quite anticipated the overwhelming onslaught of emotions that would be heaved onto the mountain I knew I would have to climb. Setting my expectations is vastly different than living it out. To say the least, I’ve learned to let go of some things. My heart is heavy with knowing that I’m definitely not meeting my standards of being a “good mom” these days. Our days seem to stretch for years and also pass in a blink. I realize I wake up before I know it to start a new day. My patience has waned and I have been stretched very thin.

As time has passed, I do think some of that has eased. We’ve begun to find some sense of rhythm to our days now. I had hopes that they would be able to attend school while we were here and learned quickly it would not be a viable option, mostly due to the pandemic and stricter guidelines for schools. We’ve since settled for afternoon 학원 (hagwon, extracurricular activity school/academy). Dragon and Monkey are thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to socialize with other children and engage in activities they enjoy.

Our first two weeks out of quarantine were marked by a constant nagging sense of unease and anxiety, nearly to the point of suffocating. I don’t often do things halfway. So prior to coming, I did all I could to prepare for this trip from making connections with folks here, researching about schools, looking around the neighborhood we are staying, studying Korean, etc. All the best laid plans still cannot account for the unexpected. Things like challenges in getting food delivered due to not having an Alien Registration Card (the name is said to change soon to drop “Alien”), lack of storage space in the apartment, inability to order large quantities of masks, etc. Bumping up against these barriers while dealing with all the other things was like getting kicked while I was already on the ground. Self-doubt seeped in and I questioned the audacity I had in thinking I could make this trip alone with the kids. At this point of our trip, tears sprung to my eyes nearly every time I spoke with my partner, family, or friends.

While I am someone who is pretty well in touch with my feelings and emotions, I’m not often one to dissolve into tears readily or easily, especially so unexpectedly. It was quite disorienting. Words cannot describe the depth of my gratitude to all the people in my life who provide support, encouragement, and help always but especially during these first few weeks. One friend attempted to help me navigate the delivery apps to no avail all the way in a city nearly four hours away. In the end, she ended up just ordering us food one day. Another friend graciously sent food for us as well from another city. The kids met some incredible friends our first day out of quarantine and their mother has been a beacon of light during these weeks. I would not have gotten our kids into 학원 (hagwon), navigated my SIM card situation, found half of the restaurants nearby, or had any support system close-by were it not for her. Not to mention my partner, friends, and family back in the states who always are ready with words of encouragement and support.

I’m grateful for the amazing people I have managed to find and keep in my life who enrich it so. It’s a reminder for me that I am worthy and am not alone. As an adoptee, I think fears and questions around being worthy, being enough, being a burden, and being wanted have always lurked in the shadows of my life. It’s taken me lots time, stumbles, and work to reach a point where I am able to see my worth and value and having others there ready to affirm that for me has provided me a sense of peace.

경복궁 (Gyeongbokgung Palace)

Now that I have found some sense of footing in our day-to-day lives, I’m beginning to tackle the other reasons why I embarked on this trip. While I was hesitant initially after discussing it over with close friends in public health and looking closely at the COVID situation here in Korea, we have been able to visit some of my birth/first family as well as 아줌마 (ajumma, the woman I lived with in Korea when I was a child). My visits are ripe with complex and confusing myriad of emotions, one that will take some time to process and put into words. I was aware of how this trip would likely further unearth all the complex traumas from my childhood and my assessment was certainly accurate.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I have the privilege of knowing more about my birth/first family than many adoptees I know since I was older when I was adopted. For me that has meant more access to information, though that information can often be conflicting and confusing. It’s also thrown me into a strange place of limbo. A place void of concrete answers and direction and filled with ambiguity. For me, and I think for many adoptees, so much of my life and experiences has a duality or is dialectical. I want to reconnect with my birth/first family AND I am very cautious. I recognize there’s more to it than simply being cautious. There’s certainly an element of abandonment, our messy history, and my own impulse to self-protect. It’s an exhausting internal pulling that has me spent. I also know it’s the space where pain exists but growth also will come. It’s murky, at best, what the next several weeks will bring in this area but I’m here so what’s the point in trying to dodge the pain and confusion now?

This beautiful mess of a trip is not only about rediscovering my roots and culture or even sharing it with my children but also about finding more of myself. And it is a beautiful mess here and, while it is not fun, I think it will be worth it.

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