A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest
by Dawn Reed
It has been four years since I witnessed the moment. Four years of considering its consequence. Four years of trying to describe the meeting with Trent’s foster mother, and the word that I keep returning to is “powerful”.
In the fall of 2009, my youngest son had expressed a desire to meet his “Korean mommy from the pictures” (his foster mother). After explaining to a six year old, how far away South Korea is from Oregon, imagine our joy when we were notified that she would be in Eugene on November 4th.
Upon arriving at the Eugene offices of Holt International Children’s Services, we seated ourselves in the lobby with other families each waiting to meet one of the two foster mothers from Korea. All of us seemed a bit uncertain, but excited. As we exchanged information, we learned that Ella was two years younger than Trent, and was also a foster child of Mrs. Lee.
Finally, the foster mothers entered the room with an interpreter. Mrs. Lee caught sight of Ella. She immediately recognized the little girl and they embraced. Through the interpreter they talked for just a couple of minutes. Our family stepped back, watching, knowing that our turn would come. After two or three minutes, the interpreter told Mrs. Lee that another child in the room was here to see her also. Mrs. Lee turned and saw Trent. In a voice that was part gasp, part sigh of relief, but completely joyous, she said, “Hyo-sung!” I think I was the only member of our family that comprehended in that moment.
She knew him.
Hyo-sung was Trent’s Korean name. This woman who had cared for 38 babies, who had only mothered my son for two-and-a-half months, recognized him six-and-a-half years later. She told us that she knew his eyes.
Trent is my affectionate little boy. He is not, however, affectionate with people he does not know well. I had worried about this for the week leading up to this moment. What if he refused to go to her? How would I communicate that this was normal? It would be heart-breaking because time was the one thing we would not have–you don’t know someone well in one day.
Yet, at the moment she called his name, the name he did not recognize, he went to her and allowed himself to be hugged. He looked up at her and smiled. The hugs continued throughout the day. The bond between a mother and her child is powerful, and that was the bond I was witnessing.
The day was filled with activities. At one point during the morning, several children were playing on swings. While on a rope swing, Trent fell off, landing flat on his back. Mrs. Lee was to him as fast as I was, brushing him off, crooning words of comfort to him. She glanced at me as if to ask whether I was accepting of her doing that, which, of course, I was. Once a mother, always a mother; the bond was obvious.
When we walked into a restaurant for a Korean lunch, we were joined by several more families with their adopted children. The foster mothers again reacted with joy as they recognized each child in turn. What a delight to watch as each child was recognized, known by their foster mother.
The final event of the day was a tea in honor of the Korean guests. While waiting for the program to begin, I was able to ask Mrs. Lee about the photos she had sent to us with Trent. Through the interpreter she explained several of the pictures. She also shared memories of his infancy: little tidbits of information that we never would have known, bits of his past now able to be carried into his future.
The programmed portion of the tea began. Holt’s Vice President read letters of thanks to each of the foster mothers. Each lady told us of her love for the children. Mrs. Lee spoke of praying for the children while they were in her care, as they transitioned to their new families, and even now. It was an emotional moment.
The tea ended and it was time for good-byes. Each family took a bit of time individually with their foster mother. Ella and Trent continued to play together happily so all of Mrs. Lee’s other families went first. At one time, as a family left, Mrs. Lee followed them out the door. Trent saw her go and joined her on the deck as she waved good-bye. It was a touching moment to watch him stand with this woman, her hand resting on his head. The two of them came back inside, him to continue playing, her to say more good-byes.
Eventually, it was our turn. Trent came over for another hug. I was so overcome with joy, gratitude, and love that I could barely speak. So many emotions, so few adequate words. I could only, through my tears, thank Mrs. Lee and tell her that we will always consider her to be a part of our family. She loved our son. She had known and cared for him before we were able to, and for that we are forever grateful. Mrs. Lee ran for a napkin on the refreshment table and used it to personally dry my tears. What tender care she showed to each one of us.
For over four years now, I have replayed these events in my mind. Of all the many memories of that day, why do I keep coming back to that initial moment? There were several other moments just as poignent, yet none quite as powerful. Here is what I think: deep down we all want to be known. Why do we form friendships? We want to be known. Why do we long to find that one true love? We want to be truly known. Family is about knowing and being known. Mrs. Lee knew my son. To her he was not just Baby #22. He was Hyo-sung, a little guy with big eyes and pale skin, a preemie who was so tiny, a “good baby” who followed her daughters’ every movement with his eyes. As the day progressed, she began to know him in a new way. He was Hyo-sung, but she also called him Trent. He was a stocky boy, strong and healthy, a boy who played & laughed wholeheartedly with another of her foster children. He had grown & changed, but he still had the same eyes. His prayers of meeting Mrs. Lee had been answered. That powerful experience of being known will forever impact his life.
Dawn Reed is the wife of Stuart. Mother of Shane and Trent. Teacher of 4th & 5th graders. Both of Dawn’s sons were adopted from South Korea as infants. Dawn tries to balance family and work and some days she pretends to be successful at that. Teaching is her calling, writing is the way she processes, laughing is the way she lives.
I asked each of our Writing Contest judges to share her thoughts on the winning entries.
Here’s what they had to say about Dawn’s story:
Korie: “Thank you for sharing your story. What a gift to share that moment of recognition between your child and someone they have longed to meet. I loved what you had to say about “being known” and how we all long for that experience. From person to person this looks so different throughout a life; thank you for sharing how this looked for your son.”
Korie Buerkle is the mother of two imaginative young children, and the wife of the talented graphic designer and amazing stay-at-home dad, Brandon Buerkle. She is a Children’s Librarian and loves creating storytimes and book clubs when she is not doing other administrative things that are not as much fun.
Meghan: “This brought me to tears! The writing was excellent and the story so moving.”
Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki works at her family’s independent bookstore, Chapters Books and Coffee where she loves chatting with customers about good books as well as their personal stories, which are often just as compelling. She spends way too much time reading, negotiating with her three children, and cooking to have any left over for cleaning her house, so imperfection is near and dear to her heart.
Aj: “Dawn captured the powerful experience of being known.”
Aj Schwanz is the Chief Manager of Consumption for her tribe at their humble abode in Dundee, Oregon. She writes single-sentence bios for herself and then gives Beth Woolsey permission to write the rest. Beth and Aj share a deep love of well-written words which they usually find in YA fantasy novels and occasionally on a completely inappropriate Canadian television series about the fae underworld, about which they text regularly. Whereas Beth just Makes Up Crap on her blog, Aj worked Real Jobs in the Writing World as a Young Adult librarian and as an editor for Barclay Press.
P.S. I neglected to include our judges’ thoughts when I shared our first two Writing Contest winning entries. So sorry! You can see them now – and read the great stories by Jen Hulfish and Lora Lyon – on their guests posts: Between Our Naked Toes and Who Are You?
And we would love to hear your thoughts, too!
One of the hardest parts of writing is wondering how our soul-baring will be received.
Your feedback and encouragement are enormous gifts.
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