One of the things with being adopted is that you can never be sure whether the information you have about yourself and your natural family is correct, inaccurate or even true. You also never know if errors are made intentionally, tailored specifically to make you more “adoptable”, or just due to laziness or sloppiness on part of those managing the information, or whether there simply wasn’t any accurate and correct information available to begin with.
Occasionally you come across something new. It could be trivial, or it could be ground-breaking in that it explains major aspects of your life. In the last six months I’ve come across two bits of information, one somewhat trivial, and the other of the more ground-breaking kind.
Both the posts mentioned below have been changed to reflect the updates.
Update One: In Memory of Appa
A while ago, about a year after I wrote “In Memory of Appa”, my sister wrote to tell me that my father died in July of 1974, not 1976 as I had previously thought. While this isn’t a detail that changes much in my life today, it still matters that I know, and that I know that I know, and for that little peace of mind I am grateful.
Update Two: Birthdays
My sister also wrote me to discuss my birth date. We established long ago that the birth date as stated in my passport and all other official papers is not correct. She pointed out that birth dates were often recorded according to the Chinese lunar calendar, not the Western one. Yet when translating dates from Chinese to Western, such as in the case of adoption, it was and probably still is the sloppy common habit to keep the month and day numbers, and just add the Western year, rather than going through the complicated work of calculating it properly.
My sister was not only concerned with the date, rather she was firmly certain that the year was wrong as well. I had been born in the spring … but a year later!
Why someone would change my birth date by a whole year is unclear. It might be a simple matter of misreading sloppy handwriting in the original documents, or it could be something else. The consequences, however, are more serious. When I was adopted, I was said to be two years old. I was small and allegedly underdeveloped, the explanation for which was that I suffered from malnutrition.
But when I look at my passport photo now, I see a barely one year old baby girl. I was thought to be a year behind in every aspect of my development, it was even suggested that I was “retarded”, but in truth I was really simply a year younger than everybody thought. I even lost my baby teeth at the same time as children believed to be a year younger than I was. I had learning problems in school, but I was really struggling to learn stuff meant for kids a year older than I was.
A whole host of issues that I went through as a child now makes perfect sense: You can’t expect a one-year-old to match the development of a two-year-old, and you can’t demand that a six-year-old matches the learning abilities of a seven-year-old. And if a child is already a year behind in school, without being offered help, she most likely won’t be able to catch up, resulting in poor grades, endless frustration, and a shattered self esteem.
I didn’t get help, I wasn’t able to catch up, and that has followed me to this day.