Book Corner – May 2024

Reviewed by Rebecca Howe

Monstrous, by Sarah Myer 

Monstrous is a young adult graphic novel memoir written and illustrated by nonbinary comic artist and transracial adoptee Sarah Myer. The story is about Myer's childhood years in the 1990s and early 2000s in rural Maryland, taking us from an imaginative and emotionally explosive early childhood, through an adolescence rife with bullying, racism, homophobia, ableism, mental health struggles and the protagonist's reckoning with identity, how to stick up for themselves, take responsibility for themselves and find self-acceptance, all with the help of art and anime.

Sarah was adopted from Korea by white parents as an infant, and they live in rural Maryland on a farm. Sarah becomes obsessed with making art after seeing the Little Mermaid with their mom as a preschooler. They don’t want to play dolls the way the girls want to, and they play well with the boys until they are told to go away for not being a boy. When Sarah sees a Sailor Moon cartoon on tv, their entire world begins to change, as anime shows them a world wider and more diverse than their physical community, and eventually leads them to find other artists and people who think more like they do and accept them for who they are. 

Sarah struggles with turning to violence as the only way they can defend themselves when adults at school won't help, and pushes friends away as a way to process self-rejection and the overwhelming negativity coming at them daily. By the time Sarah is finishing high school, they have found a few good, safe friends in theater and through anime, and upon finally watching Neon Genesis Evangelion, find the empowerment they need to realize they are the only person who can decide what their life gets to be. We get to see Sarah's return to their childhood self to nurture their own sense of belonging, acceptance, kindness and excitement for the future.

 

Monstrous is a raw, emotional ode to being yourself and keeping your heart intact when others are hateful, and through periods when you might not know how to hold on to yourself anymore. While transracial adoption and racism is a big theme in this book, there are many intersectional layers to this story that will be relevant to a wide range of readers. This young adult book is marketed to people ages 14-18, but I would recommend this book to kids as young as 11, with the understanding that there are a few slight references to sex and a handful of scenes with violence in them, including illustrated images of the monster Sarah imagines lives inside them. I would also recommend this book to all adults who’ve ever felt a disconnect from their communities, or who love anime, or who love to get their hearts tugged on by a strong, imperfect, lovable protagonist who becomes the hero they never knew they could be.

Book Recommendations for Families Created in Transracial Adoption

Rebecca Howe is a white adoptive parent who is an author and artist and works in children’s literature.


Mother’s Day: Family Titles, Roles, and Relationships

As a country we have been celebrating Mother’s Day since the 19th century, honoring women who play a pivotal role in the lives of children of any age. For some, Mother’s Day can bring feelings of both celebration and complexity. In adoption, mothers of origin or birth/first mothers play a vital role in the lives of children they are born to and separated from. It’s important that you have open and loving conversations about different ways mothers and mother figures play a vital role in a child’s life.

June-in-April Calendar Conversation Cards

Transracial Journeys invites your family to experience the calendar in a whole new way. With the help of the June-in-April Calendar Conversation Cards, each month your family is invited to use the cards as a tool for more regular and intentional conversations about identity, family relationships, and differences of race and culture.

Each month has four cards with conversation starters. The prompts and questions are designed to spark reflection and ongoing dialogue within your family as well as with extended family and friends. There is no prescriptive way to use the cards, sometimes parents or grown-ups can take the lead and ask the questions and other times, children can go first.

Here is a suggested weekly breakdown for using each set of monthly cards:

Week 1: Parent/caregiver preparation and reflection

• Review the month’s theme and conversation prompts
• Check-in with any emotions that come up and discuss with a partner, friend, or loved one
• Put time on the calendar for the family to engage with the conversation cards

Week 2: Read/discuss card 1
Week 3: Read/discuss card 2
Week 4: Read/discuss card 3 and close out the month with any insights, challenges and new ideas for the next month

Mothers Day

May Pro-Tip for Parents: Be sure to build in time for you and your child to process all of the feelings that may come about surrounding Mothers’ Day. Resist the urge to expect gifts and instead give yourself something special to honor yourself as a mother or mother figure. Be prepared to help your child hold the both/and of this holiday.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• What does Mothers' Day mean to you?
• What are some feelings you have about Mothers’ Day?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• How do we honor Mother’s Day in our family?
• Can we acknowledge and celebrate more than one mother?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• Do different cultures celebrate Mother’s Day?
• Are there different ways mothers are honored around the world?

This post is from our May, 2024, email newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our monthly Parent Meet-Ups, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp - registration is open now!


Navigating Identity: The Significance of Names in Self-Discovery

By Cj Rosenstiel

In the intricate tapestry of identity, our names are the first threads, weaving the fabric of who we are. They carry history and significance, shaping our sense of self from birth. But what if the name we're given doesn't quite fit? This question sparked my journey of self-discovery, delving into the essence of being and my place in the world. Despite multiple legal name changes, none felt right, prompting a deeper exploration.

When my partner, Jennie, and I welcomed our boys into our family, we knew their first names would remain unchanged. However, understanding the importance of cohesion and security, we opted for matching last names. This decision was crucial, providing a safety net for our young sons, especially our eldest, who was prone to wandering.

Embracing tradition and heritage, we decided on Hebrew names for our boys. Giving our eldest the agency to choose his Hebrew name empowered him to assert his identity. Jennie and I incorporated parts of their Hebrew names into their middle names, a collaborative process that reflected our family's journey of exploration and understanding.

Now, aged 12 and 10, both boys are aware of their full names given by their mother of origin. They understand the significance of names in shaping identity and know they have the freedom to explore and redefine themselves. Supporting their journey of self-discovery is paramount to us, as we hope they find names that are a perfect fit—a true reflection of who they are.

In our family, names are not just labels but symbols of individuality and belonging. They remind us of the complexities of identity and the power of self-discovery. As we navigate this journey together, our hope is that our sons embrace their names with pride, knowing they signify not only where they come from but also who they aspire to be.

Cj

Bio

Cj works in IT doing telephony project work at Progressive by day, advocating for trauma-informed care in public schools and as a board member of Transracial Journeys, he contributes to fostering understanding in transracial adoption communities. Together with his partner Jennie, Cj lovingly parents two transracially adopted boys by night, showcasing his commitment to family and inclusivity.

This post is from our April, 2024, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


Sharp Edges of Exclusion that Come with Adoption, Family Separation and Differences of Race

by TRJ Executive Director, April Dinwoodie

“Where is she from?”

“Does she look like her dad?”

“Do you know who her real parents are?” 

These and other questions came hard and fast at my mom and me when we were out in a world that wants us to match and did not understand the realities of adoption, family separation, and the impact of trauma that comes with both.  

As a kid, I never quite understood why folks were so interested in my family, why my mom would get kind of mad when these things would happen, and why I felt so weird when it did. Why did anyone care what we looked like, why I was brown, or how we came together as a family?  Also, what were “real parents” anyway?  None of it made sense and over time, unwanted attention based on how I looked and where I “fit” within the family that surrounded me was constant. In a majority white community where families matched, I was singled out and often wondered if I belonged anywhere.  

In addition to the comments about how our family looked there were comments about how lucky I was or how lucky our family was.  Lucky? Why was I lucky to have what everyone else had, a family?  It did not make sense and it made me feel uncomfortable.  We rarely unpacked these things as a family so I was left to wonder why my family was so different, why I was different and why I should feel the least bit lucky about any of it?  

Sitting next to all of this were my complex feelings of sadness and confusion about my family of origin and looking so different from the people around me.  While I truly loved my family and  these feelings were not all-consuming, they were serious distractions as I navigated the world.  I simply wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else and to feel like I belonged.  

There was no bright or easy path to true belonging because those closest to me did not realize the weight of my reality and most others were too busy expecting me to be grateful.  I needed a community like TRJ to help my parents know and do better and I needed to be around other children and families.  

This year TRJ’s camp theme centers on inclusivity and belonging.  As always, we will create space for deep learning and development as well as moments for joy and community.   Together, we will work to soften the sharp edges of exclusion that come with adoption, family separation and differences of race.  Together, we will co-created the brightest path to belonging for the children entrusted to you through adoption.  

This post is from our March, 2024, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


Preparation: Transracial Adoption: Be Ready!

Have you had strangers ask inappropriate questions of you and your family?

“Is she/he/them yours?”

“Where are they from?” -

“Your child is SO lucky”.

These invasive questions are part of being a family that does not match and where differences of race are obvious to the world around you. It is important to be prepared for these intrusions.

March Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck, given to all our families at Family Camp. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for March. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

March Pro-Tip for Parents: Make sure you have thought about specific times when moments of intrusion or inquiry have happened to your family. Think about the conversations you have had with friends and extended family when they were reflecting on how they feel or think you and your children should feel about adoption. These are intricate and complicated realities and thinking about them and talking about them will help ease what often lives under the surface.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• Do you feel lucky to be my parent?
• Do you think I should feel lucky to be your child?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• How do you explain our family to friends and family? How about to strangers that ask about us?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What are some unlucky things about adoption?

This post is from our March, 2024 e-newsletter.  Pictures on the website are from Family Camp. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, with Family Camp updates, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for our main event;  Transracial Journeys Family Camp!


February. Transforming: Bring a Higher Love

At the intersection of St. Valentine’s Day and Black History Month, this short month brings so many foundational elements of identity, relationships, and differences for families to explore. Love is a vital ingredient for all families but adoption and difference of race make it imperative the love moves beyond the transactional and into the transformational.

February Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

Transracial Journeys invites your family to experience the calendar in a whole new way. With the help of the June-in- April Calendar Conversation Cards, each month your family is invited to use the cards as a tool for more regular and intentional conversations about identity, family relationships, and differences of race and culture.

Each month has four cards with conversation starters. The prompts and questions are designed to spark reflection and ongoing dialogue within your family as well as with extended family and friends. There is no prescriptive way to use the cards, sometimes parents or grown-ups can take the lead and ask the questions and other times, children can go first.

February Pro-Tip for Parents: 

• Explore the calendar conversation cards on your own and think about the prompts/questions - maybe even write a few things down that come up.
• Have conversations with other trusted grown-ups first and anticipate any questions that may come from the children/ young people.
• Be sure you are centered and ready before diving into the conversations.
• If you already have these kinds of conversations with your children, challenge yourself to take it to the next level.
• Explain to children their role and how they will be able to ask questions to you as their parent/caregiver.
• Keep the cards handy so you can use them any time. Consider setting them near the family dinner table or place where you gather as a family.
• Challenge yourself and also give yourself grace - these conversations are necessary and can be difficult.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY

• What is one thing you love about yourself?
• What is one thing you love about me?
• What is one thing you love about someone else in our family?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS

• Who was the first person you loved?
• Do you think it can be hard to love people sometimes?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What makes us different?
• What makes us similar?
• What are some new ways we can honor and celebrate Black Excellence, Joy and Resilience?

This post is from our February, 2024, email newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp.


Reflections: Entry Point for Living Fully with Authenticity and Purpose as an Adoptive Family

by TRJ Executive Director, April Dinwoodie

As I reflect on my younger years as a transracially adopted person, I am filled with so many wonderful childhood memories with my sister, brothers, my parents and extended family. I am also filled with the memories of feeling isolated with my feelings and thoughts about adoption and differences of race.

My parents, busy as they were looking after us, were not in tune, and rhythm with some of the needs that I had as a Black/biracial transracially adopted person. We didn’t talk enough about the realities of separation from family of origin or differences of race, and I was left to navigate these big real realities mostly on my own.

Conversations: An Entry Point for Living Fully with Authenticity and Purpose

Today, I can confidently say that the entry point for living fully with authenticity and purpose as an adoptive family where difference of race is present, is grounding conversation that is ongoing and ever present in your daily life.

Adoption is both a journey rooted in love, and it’s also a path intertwined with unique challenges, especially when it involves racial differences. It’s crucial to recognize that adoption doesn’t just create your family; it weaves together origins, cultures, and backgrounds that may be vastly different.

Encouraging an Environment of Discussion

Start by encouraging an environment where questions and discussions about adoption and race are welcomed and encouraged. It’s important for children to feel safe in expressing their feelings and curiosities. This always starts with you.  So often, I hear parents say – “my child never asks me questions” or “they never really want to talk about adoption or our differences”.  Almost always the questions are there but the space to explore them is not. 

Getting more into the flow of ongoing conversation requires commitment from parents and caregivers as well as resources to support the effort.   Use books, movies, and cultural events as tools to celebrate your child’s heritage and your family’s multiculturalism. This not only helps them connect with their roots but also aids the whole family in understanding and appreciating culture, ethnicity and heritage more holistically.  Check out our book corner and conversation cards as you continually add to your tool kit. 

Connecting With Other Adoptive Families

Another way to scaffold your family is to connect with other adoptive families, especially those with similar dynamics. Sharing experiences and insights can be invaluable for both parents and children.  Transracial Journeys is excited to remind parents of a partnership that began in October 2023 with Adoption Network Cleveland to bring our parents the  Transracial Adoptive Parent Support Group. Join us Thursday, January 18, 2024 7:00pm-8:00pm and third Thursdays of each month.  Registration details can be found on the Adoption Network Cleveland website.

And finally, do not be ashamed or afraid to seek professional guidance from counselors or therapists, particularly those who specialize in adoption and multicultural families. They can provide strategies and support for navigating complex emotions and situations.  Here is a state by state directory of mental health professionals who identify as adoptees and work with adoptees /adoptive families in a variety of public and private settings. This list was curated by Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker and I encourage you to visit her website to learn more. 

Remember, these conversations are not a one-time event but an ongoing dialogue that evolves as your child grows. It’s about building a foundation of trust, understanding, and respect for your child’s unique identity and your families unique reality. 

This post is from our January, 2024, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


January Embracing: Live with Authenticity, Purpose and Joy

January is a time when folks traditionally take stock of where they are and may even make some resolutions for a new diet, more time exercising, or commitments to spending quality time with family and friends. For families that extend through transracial adoption, January can offer a time to think about the year ahead and together as a family, continue the expansive journey of authentically navigating family and differences together with purpose and joy.

TRJ Conversation Cards

Our Executive Director, April Dinwoodie, has created conversation cards that help families make space for ongoing conversations about adoption and differences of race and culture. The Transracial Journeys card deck contains 3 cards for each month that the children use to ask their parents questions, that parents can use for quiet reflection. Some families leave the deck somewhere visible and pick a card at random, some families follow the monthly prompts. No matter how you use your cards, you’ll find a pathway to a more active and authentic holding of the complexities of transracial adoption so you and your family can live with authenticity, purpose, and joy. Below are the questions for January. Before getting started, read the parent tip. Families that attend our annual camp receive a set of the cards and if you’d like a set please email info@transracialjourneys.org.

January Tips for Parents: Do some pre-planning so that you have time to process some of the harder anniversaries or days on the calendar before discussing with children. Have some ideas to share for new dates to mark on the calendar so your children can react and be inspired to think about what they’d like to add as well.

CARD ONE: Identifying with the calendar as individuals and as a family

  • What are your most and least favorite holidays and why?
  • What are some of your most and least favorite times of year and why?
  • Are there holidays that you’d rather not acknowledge but feel you have to?

CARD TWO: Relationships

  • What are ways you can celebrate the happiest days of the year?
  • How can you honor the saddest days and find ways to prepare for what might be hard?

CARD THREE: Embracing and Facing Differences of Race and Culture

  • What are some holidays that you have not traditionally celebrated that you could add to the calendar?
  • What do you need to know about any new holidays that you might add to the calendar?

This post is from our January, 2024, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.


December – Reflections: Evolving Traditions 

The December holidays give us an opportunity to think about traditions tied to different cultures and religions. Regardless of what you and your family honor and celebrate, we can be inspired to take a closer look at what traditions mean to us and how we can expand our thinking and actions.

Read some of our previous December posts from over the years to help guide you and your family through the ideas of evolving traditions:

December Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send out cues for conversations each month. Our Transracial Journeys card deck contains 3 cards for each month that the children use to ask their parents questions. Below are the questions for December. Before getting started, read the parent pro-tip each month.

December Pro-Tip for Parents: Resist the urge to hold tight onto traditions that may be holding you back from fully embracing new ideas that may better honor your child’s culture. Also think about simplifying or modifying some of the traditions you now honor to make room for new ones.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• As a kid, did you celebrate any December holidays?
• If so, which ones?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• Were there things that you would do year after year as a family during the month of December or maybe other months of the year?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What are some new traditions or holidays you’d like to learn more about and/or try?

This post is from our December, 2023, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.


Beyond Words: Sustaining Strong and Healthy Families

by TRJ Executive Director April Dinwoodie

Generosity and good heartedness are core values in the family system I was adopted into.  Throughout the year and especially during at the holiday season,  you’ll hear members of my family saying, "There is always room at our holiday table." It's a sentiment that suggests inclusivity and kindness and it feels good to open hearts and home to folks that may need a seat at your family table. 

With this spirit and with amazing cooks in the mix, on any given Sunday or holiday, there is a mix of family and friends, old and new, around our dining table. Laughter, love, and abundance fill the space and it’s hard not to feel blessed to have been enveloped into this warmth. At the same time, there were members of my family of origin that hung at the edges. As extended family and friends gathered round our table, I could not help but wonder where my extended family of origin were where? What were their holiday cultural traditions? And what was it like to look around a table and see genetic mirrors and physical resemblances?

Adoption is often characterized as a beautiful and transformative journey that brings families together. It is often accompanied by the sentiment, "There is always room at our table," reflecting the openness and love adoptive parents have for the children entrusted to them through adoption. However, when these words are spoken while family of origin are not welcomed, it raises important questions about the true meaning of inclusivity within the adoption experience.

The Importance of Family of Origin Inclusion:

Family of origin is an intrinsic part of identity and heritage for all human beings. Excluding family of origin from the adoptive family's table sends a message that their role and connection are not valued or acknowledged. It is essential to recognize that an adopted person’s story is not complete without healthy connections to the family that came before adoption. Excluding them not only denies the child their full history but can also create feelings of loss, confusion, and a sense of divided loyalty.

Adoption requires parents to center on true inclusivity and shift from merely extending words of welcome to actively fostering connections with family of origin. Here's how adoptive parents can challenge the status quo and create a more inclusive environment:

See Family of Origin as Your Family too:

I often hear adoptive parents speaking about an adopted person’s family of origins as “their family” when in reality, it’s really “our family.” Even with the complexities of family separation, abuse and neglect, there are ways to be in relationship with even the idea of family of origin with open, truthful, and age-appropriate conversation. In order to fully embrace family of origin, parents must first internalize their feelings connected to the kin of the child. This is big human work and with supports as needed, community to validate the difficulties, and with the best interests of children at the center, these important connections are possible.

Building Bridges, Not Barriers:

View the family of origin as potential partners and positive influences in the child's life. If healthy relationships are not possible, there are other complications with the contact and previous abuse and neglect, you may have to work hard to make sure there is at the very least a conversational connection to family of origin. By integrating the appropriate level of discussion and action surrounding family adoptive parents demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity and recognize the value of the child's entire support network and the importance of healthy identity.

Celebrate Shared Moments:

For more practiced families, incorporation of the family of origin into significant events and milestones in the child's life can be transformational. Birthdays, graduations, and holidays can be celebrated together, creating an inclusive environment where a child does not feel they have to choose which family they want to celebrate with. If there is not an opening for connections to family of origin, you can engage in active dialogue about the family that is not always present to acknowledge and honor the child's roots, traditions, and cultural heritage.

Create Opportunities for Conversation:

Take the lead in fostering a supportive environment where children feel comfortable discussing and exploring their feelings about family connections. Encourage open conversations about adoption and provide resources that help them understand and navigate your unique family dynamics. By acknowledging and validating emotions, parents can help their children develop a healthy sense of self and identity. The November conversation cards help set the tone and guide discussions.

Remember, as adoptive parents, when you say, "There is always room at our table," are you truly open to any and all pulling up a chair? Inclusion goes beyond words; it requires active efforts to build bridges, promote open communication, and celebrate shared moments. By recognizing the importance of family of origin, adoptive parents can create a more culturally appropriate and nurturing environment for children. Only by embracing the full spectrum of a child's identity and heritage can we truly honor the spirit of adoption and create a more inclusive, loving, and supportive family dynamic.

I sought out my family of origin and am in connection with many family members on my maternal side but we have yet to all sit down at the holiday table together. My hope is that your children get connected to origins in whatever way possible with you by their side with open hearts and minds.

This post is from our November, 2023, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.