Tackling the hard topic of adoption

Author Melanie Lee with her husband Darren and their son Christian.

ADOPTION is not an easy topic to explore. Most parents try to hide the truth from their kids for fear of their child’s reaction when they find out.

Kudos to Singapore-based author Melanie Lee for being brave enough to challenge the status quo.

squirkyShe not only tackles this topic in her children’s picture book The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #1 Why Am I Blue, but also encourages other parents to talk to their kids about it.

Melanie and her husband Darren adopted their son Christian in July 2012 when he was four months. He was born in Indonesia and, like them, is of Chinese ethnicity.

“Due to health issues, we found out that we would not be able to have biological children. We took a year to grieve and come to terms with this. During that period, we discussed adoption and realised that it was an option that we were actually pretty comfortable with. My father-in-law was adopted and I’ve always loved kids,” explains Melanie via email.

Christian is now 2½ years old and too young to understand that he is adopted.

However, Melanie and Darren plan to tell him when he turns three. In the meantime, the couple have been reading him children’s adoption books such as A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza.

“I believe that honesty should form the foundation of any relationship. The Q&A for adoptive parents found in the Squirky books explains why adoption disclosure is necessary and should be an ongoing process.

“I think overall, people are getting more open about adoption with families and friends. But it’s still considered as something ‘not normal’ so it’s not a topic that gets brought up very often in the media,” says Melanie.

She believes that the story of Squirky is universal in the sense that everyone has some sort of journey to go through in life.

“It is through such an exploration that you begin to understand yourself better and your place in this world.

“As an adoptive mum, I’ve also realised that a lot of comic book and storybook characters are orphans and/or adopted: Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, Harry Potter, Frodo from The Lord of the Rings, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Pip from Great Expectations, Bambi, Anne of Green Gables, Paddington Bear, etc.”

Knowing that the topic of adoption will not appeal to all parents, Melanie nevertheless wrote her book series on it.

She says her son was the inspiration for it.

“I wanted to write an ‘adoption adventure’ for him. At the same time, I thought it would be good to have an adoption book for children featuring Asian adoptive parents (most of such books are written for the US market and hence feature Western families). In that sense, it was really my only path. I’ve never been inspired to write children’s books before this.

“To be frank, when my illustrator friend David (Liew) and I were discussing doing a children’s book on adoption, we were thinking of self-publishing it as an ebook because we didn’t think any publisher would be interested in such a topic. It just so happened I was working with MPH on my short stories Imaginary Friends then, and when I mentioned Squirky to them, they were game to publish this series as well. I’m grateful that they were willing to take this risk. That being said, as an author, I will be trying my best to promote this book series while also raising more awareness on adoption.”

There are six books in this series. The subsequent books will follow Squirky’s search for his birth parents in space.

Melanie says for her there is no difference in raising an adopted or biological child.

“It’s the same facing the terrible twos just like other parents with kids of that age!”

She also admits that the family unit is changing and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“I feel things are a lot more fluid on the family front these days. But at the end of the day, it’s really how the child is cared for that matters. One can come from a traditional nuclear family but if the parents are too busy at work or are not on good terms, that also isn’t ideal. I believe the bigger issue for parents is whether we sometimes undermine intimacy with our children because we get so caught up in the busyness and practicalities of everyday life.

“Family today is a group of two or more people who care and provide for each other, and stick through thick and thin with each other even if we know all the not-so-good stuff about each other.”

In the end, that’s all that matters. – BRIGITTE ROZARIO