Reflections on "Wo Ai Ni Mommy"

Movies have the ability to place questions in our paths which force us to think, long and hard, about our lives. Stephanie Wang-Breal’s Wo Ai Ni Mommy certainly did that to me.

I watched it about a week ago, taking time to watch it carefully, without interruption. Now, a week after watching, my initial reactions have mellowed into broad impressions, each bringing questions rather than answers about the international adoption experience.

First impression: Wo Ai Ni Mommy is beautifully made. Stephanie Wang-Breal has approached Sui Yong’s journey with great sensitivity, and in many places zeroes in wordlessly on the heart of the issue, which to me is yet another question: Why, for the love of God, was it necessary to take this child of eight from everything she knew? Wasn’t there in all of humanity someone who could have said Wait, there’s another way!?

Second impression: If you watched the film, you may have had this reaction, too. Was this family prepared in any objective, substantive way to parent an eight-year-old child from another culture, race and language? Add Sui Yong’s disability to the picture, along with the adoptive mother's authoritarian nature, and you struggle even more to understand; at least I did. The language lessons hit me particularly hard, given that linguistics is my field and I have taught second languages to English speakers and English to speakers of other languages. I didn’t get the sense that Mom, in spite of the fact that she knew some Chinese, respected the language or Sui Yong’s significant abilities, which were sacrificed all too quickly.

Third impression: This is a close family. Mom may be an authoritarian, but there's real warmth here. The siblings genuinely care for one another, something that I think will be a treasure to them all in adulthood, and is a treasure now, even if they don’t realize it or are unable to verbalize it. Dad provides the perfect foil to Mom’s sternness.

Fifth impression: This one is about me rather than the film. I began watching steeled for a story I wasn’t going to like, and after watching adoptive mom meet Sui Yong in China, I also wanted to dislike her. But I find that the emotions that have stayed with me are resignation and frustration: resignation to a process that just doesn’t seem able to get it right, and frustration that in spite of all the information that is available in books and on the internet and from organizations and individuals, adoptions continue to take place with their focus on the adoptive parents and little concern for this children who lose so much in the process.

Ah, someone is saying; ah, but look how much Sui Yong gained. She gained a family, loving siblings, loving parents, the opportunity for treatment for her disability. What was there for her in China? Even her foster father said that she had to come to the U.S., she had to leave China, which would never accept her as she was.

I will say right now that I know very little about Chinese attitudes toward disabilities. But it seems to me that an adoptive family could have been found for Sui Yong in all of that vast country. Perhaps there was no way to reunite her with her first family; we are never told what motivated their decision to send her to the orphanage. But it seems to me that her losses could have been softened had she been adopted by a Chinese family. Maybe then she could have maintained her relationship with her foster family, with whom she had developed a strong attachment.

All supposition, I know. But these are considerations which need to be addressed with every single intercountry adoption.

Sixth impression: At the end of the day, my family’s experience is really no different than the Sadowskys'.  Loss is loss. Their daughters lost, my kids lost.  Sensitive, prepared parenting may soften the pain of adjustment and improve the possibility of attachment, but it doesn't change that basic fact.

Something Stephanie Wang-Breal describes in the interview at the end of the film how, as she filmed over a nearly two year period, she watched Sui Yong blossom. But do you remember the scene in which Sui Yong, her adoptive mother and grandfather, and her foster family meet? At the family’s home after sightseeing, Sui Yong and her Guangzhou Mei Mei, her Chinese foster sister, danced together, laughing and giggling.

There, in familiar surroundings and with people she loved, it was clear that Sui Yong had already blossomed.

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