Thank you, KAAN, thank you

There actually is a reason I felt it was time to return to this blog: KAAN.

I went to the conference this year with no small amount of my own baggage. Being an adoptive parent doesn’t mean that your journey is straightforward and understandable, and I’ve come to realize that my youngest’s departure for college hit me differently than I had expected it would.  I’ve felt all the typical “empty nest” emotions, but I’ve also found myself feeling less like an adoptive parent, and more like a plain old mom.

And that has made me less patient with extreme attitudes and loud voices in the adoption community. Seems strange, but after much soul-searching, I really see the connection.

KAAN was like a balm this year. First, I got to see the friends I have made over the years, and made some  new ones, too.  From the drive up to Harrisburg with a buddy who was in DC for a conference, to the nights at the bar and hanging out in our rooms, to lunches, dinners and sessions, everywhere I looked I saw a friend. What touched me beyond my ability to express here is that many of them saw that I was pretty down in the dumps, and freely offered their comfort and support. I can’t really convey how much it helped.

Then there were the sessions and activities. Although I didn’t attend many (I do registration and was at the reg table a lot) the ones I attended provided opportunities to discuss feelings and experiences in a safe environment. A highlight was the showing of Resilience on Friday night. I can say honestly that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, nor a person who wasn’t deeply moved.  This was reflected in all the discussions of the movie that took place throughout the weekend.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Korean adoption conference if there wasn’t some KOREA there. There’s a fabulous performing group in central Pennsylvania called Selaheart, and I was given the plum job of escorting them to and from their rehearsal and helping with anything they needed. I got to watch some amazing performers, including a Korean national living treasure performing Korean folk songs. It is impossible not to smile when you’re watching traditional Korean music, let me tell you.

The very best memory, though, came from our usual hang-out time after Saturday night’s dinner and performance. Senator Paull Shin spoke, and his words brought the entire audience to their feet. Selaheart then performed, and as everyone left the celebration, our mood was high. Someone suggested continuing the party in a room, so a good 30 or so of us met, wine bottles, beers and sodas in tow. It got to the point of standing room only, and became a real party, with everyone laughing and talking – I’m so glad Terra had her camera to preserve the moment.

Being that this was a Korean American celebration, at some point there had to be a song, so one by one, we all started joining in to sing Arirang. I looked around the room and realized that in that small space was every experience you could find in adoption from Korea: adoptees with all kinds of experiences and points of v iew; a Korean father was there with the daughter he found again after many years; a Korean mother who came to the U.S. to find her half-American son and ultimately found him in Australia; adoptive parents, some with their families and some alone; people who work in adoption; and Korean Americans who support the conference.  Before too long, everyone was linking arms and adding their – our – voices.

There was laughter and there were tears, some happy and some poignant. Most of all, there was the unspoken sense that, although we as individuals might not agree on every issue, we recognized that we are doing our best, for ourselves, our families and for Korean adoption. That kind of mutual respect (along with the knowledge that what we talk about at KAAN stays at KAAN) is a treasure, and allows people to open up. I crave that kind of dialog, and it is everywhere at this conference.

With the memory of KAAN 2010 strong in my mind, what I want to do here now is clear again: To write in a way that makes that same sense of connection possible. To accept the journeys of others to allow me to learn from them. To work to change what must be changed, with encouragement rather than criticism, by supporting the work of those who have found a better way.

Thank you, everyone who works to make KAAN possible every year and everyone who comes to the conference. Thank you.

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