Camp Mujigae: Second Year

When Will started preschool seven years ago, I struggled with learning little girls’ names in his class.  Nearly all of the girls had long hair pulled back in a pony-tail.  With hair color ranging from nearly white blonde to light brown, but still in the blonde family.  And blue eyes.  By kindergarten, I had most of them figured out, or more to the point, I knew which mom each of them belonged to. Now with the boys being older, the passing of time has helped me easily identify the girls.  With the exception of two in Liam's class: both have long, curly, blonde-ish hair and both wear glasses.

This was the second summer I took the boys to Camp Mujigae in Albany, New York.  A Korean culture camp for Korean adoptees and their families.  Last summer, one of the moms said, “Good luck finding your kids tomorrow at camp, especially from behind!”  Yes.  Last year, I called out to Liam several times one afternoon only to realize when the kid finally turned around that he wasn’t Liam.

As I looked around at the other boy campers, there was a pretty even mix between very short or rather long hair styles.  Statistically speaking, that gave me a greater chance of identifying my sons from the back.  Mine have long hair this summer.

As I met more parents, I recognized more boys.  Or at least coupled the hair styles with the parents (aka: Joe and Rita’s son has long hair.)  By the time the kids outgrow camp in ten years, I may know all the boys' names.

On the drive home, the boys had my phone and were looking at the pictures I had taken at camp.  I asked them, in a very confusing way, if it was easy for them to tell the difference between the boys they met during the last couple days.  “I don’t understand what you mean, Mom,” Will declared.

Yet, not even a minute later, he said, “Hey, why am I wearing glasses in this picture?!?!”  It was a close-up of Liam and a camp friend – with long hair – standing side-by-side.  It took Will a few seconds before he realized that the person next to Liam wasn’t him.  Will laughed.  “I thought you photo-shopped the glasses onto my face!”

Question answered.

 (Notes from last year's Camp Mujigae...)

Camp Mujigae

After Grandma's funeral in Iowa, the boys and I flew to Albany, New York, last Wednesday for a Korean culture camp: Camp Mujigae. In Korean, Mujigae means "rainbow." Will and Liam each attended half-day camps with kids their respective ages: 9- and 7-year-olds. Each age group was grouped into six kids per counselor. It was a chance for the boys to get to know other kids who were adopted from Korea and for us adoptive families to meet, chat, laugh, and well-up. The experiences are best summed up from the Harrisons, Olivias, and Moms at camp. (Have you met Harrison and Olivia yet?) One slight adjustment: they are no longer preschoolers.

“What do you think, Harrison?” Mom asked after the first day of camp. “I like it. I’m not the odd man out. Everyone here was born in another country.”

"I finally get to spend time with my friends!" said Olivia. Mom was confused as Olivia had just had a playdate with a good friend from school, but camp was different. Korean friends were different.

“Good luck finding your kids tomorrow at camp, especially from behind!” said Mom who has brought her kids to camp for several years. First-time Camp Mujigae Mom nearly yelled at a boy for not responding when she called his name… He wasn’t her son. From the back, all the boys had the same black hair, were the same height, and wore the same colored shirts. (Groups of kids in the same colored shirts are problematic for this particlar Mom... See Mother's Day from a Non-Soccer Mom...)

“Mom,” proclaimed Harrison, “I’m average! Everyone in my group is my age and I’m about the same size they are!”

Shared stories between adoptive Moms... "Olivia said, 'I’m not celebrating my birthday any more. It’s too sad to think of my birth mother being sad that day.' I said I really didn't think her birth mother would want her to be sad on her birthday.

“As for me, I have a lump lodged in my throat every year on Olivia’s birthday. What a painful decision her birth mother made to let another family raise Olivia. This beautiful girl, my daughter.”

There. Another adoptive Mom said it aloud. I’m not alone shedding tears on birthdays.

Liam's Forever Family Day 2012

We moved out of our house for the renovation May 26th.  We moved back into our house, and slept in our own beds, last Saturday, September 22nd.  During the summer months, we slept in a couple dozen beds.  Now, we are living simply until construction is completely done inside.   With just mattresses on the floor that we are calling beds, we are sleeping at home.  With a quilt that floats from unfinished room to unfinished room, we are picnicking at home.  With a flurry of activity around the house and construction, it’s alarming how special days are slipping through the cracks. So it’s time to put a pin on the calendar for this week: Liam’s Forever Family Day is Thursday, September 27th.  Six years ago we brought 9-month-old Liam home from South Korea.  And now he’s 48 inches tall.

Liam is the man with a view.  He sees the whole playing field in soccer and in hockey.  He sees the whole chess board.  He sees the whole maze.  To me and my wacky, challenged sense of depth perception, this is amazing.  He sees the whole picture.

Desperate for the hand-held Nintendo DS, which I removed from the house three years ago, Liam has been reading like a trooper since school started.  I told him when he wanted to read as much as he wanted the DS, we would talk about its return but not until fall.  Since August 22nd, I have been reminded that fall is on September 22nd.  Forgetting momentarily about the DS, he looked out the window September 22nd and somberly noted that there weren’t any leaf piles to jump in.

Liam is strong.  Strong.  Strong. Strong.  Strong-willed.  Strong-tempered.  Strong thinker.  Sometimes in my attempt with the “removal of privilege” system, which I KNOW works equally as poorly as the “reward system” with this child, we butt heads.  “Yeah, Mom, I don’t care about that.”  After a conversation this summer with a mom of a similarly wired kid, it clicked: I am Liam's greatest commodity.  And I can’t take me away from him.

In a heated discussion on our way to floor hockey, we were going at it.  When I should bite my tongue, I engage.  It’s like two mountain goats butting heads over a single blade of grass.  With a snarl thrown in my direction – and my return motherly-snarl saying “don’t-snarl-at-me” – Liam runs onto the gym floor.  I stay to watch; Liam has said he doesn’t want me to run errands.  Today, I could use an errand or two to recover from the head butt.

Fifteen minutes into the practice, they start a game using hockey sticks and whiffle balls.  With no protective barriers, the ball flies off walls, benches, and parents.  The ball and six boys come charging toward me.  From the pack, I hear a loud and clear and slightly ferocious warning, “HEY!!  Be careful of my mom!!”

Ahhhh…  Glad I didn’t run errands.

Much is the same, yet much has changed since Liam's 2010 Forever Family Day.

The Beginning of Forever

While my short term memory bumbles along, thankfully, some moments in our lives are so strong and edible that they are branded into my mental memory album forever. Eight years ago tomorrow, April 21st, Bill and I awoke early, packed our bags, and went downstairs.  The beginning of a new forever was minutes away.

The air was cool.  The bouquet of flowers was enormous.  Another couple we had met earlier in the week had suggested we give flowers to Mrs. Lee, Will’s foster mother, so she would leave the agency with something beautiful.  The previous afternoon, we watched the florist as she built a spectacular hand bouquet.

The other couple was from Maryland, and their beginning was the next day.  They joined us on our morning and chatted after we signed a few papers and collected a sealed envelope to handover to immigration officials when we landed at O'Hare.  We anxiously watched the door.  Soon, six-month-old Will arrived, riding on Mrs. Lee’s back.  We were greeted by the same dimpled little smile we first saw a week earlier.  Mrs. Lee unbundled Will and he sat on her lap.

Young Dr. Kim, the head of Eastern Social Welfare Society in Seoul, gave us encouraging, thankful words.  Then, with his hand on Will, he said a prayer in Korean.  We stood up.  Awkwardly, bowed and shook hands, not knowing which was appropriate.  Mrs. Lee and I looked at each other.  I thanked her and then hugged her.  We spoke different languages.  A hug was the best way I could convey all that I felt for this woman who was Will’s “omma” from when he was just days old.

We all walked to the van waiting outside.  I passed the flower bouquet to the woman accompanying Mrs. Lee.  Bill and I got into the van, wondering if this was really happening.  So gently.  So quickly.

Mrs. Lee held Will until we settled. Then…

Bill and I looked at each other as the van pulled away from the agency, out of Seoul, and toward Inch eon airport.

No tears.  No music.  No fanfare.  No car seats.  No seat belts. No instruction manual.  No English-speaking driver.

Will sat quietly, calmly in Bill’s long arms.

I looked at them both, a smile replacing the shock.  “This is it?  …This is it!”

The beginning of forever.