Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Gotcha Day" considerations...edited

I just found this article today in Adoptive Families magazine online. It's something to consider. Whenever this many adult adoptees have something to say on a certain matter, it's important to listen:

Get Rid of "Gotcha"

by Karen Moline

I could hear the whine coming closer and closer, until I could stand it no longer.

"Gotcha!" I said in triumph. Another mosquito swatted to oblivion.

"Gotcha" is my typical response when I've squashed a bug, caught a ball just before it would have rolled under the sofa, or managed to reach a roll of toilet paper on the top shelf at the store. It's a silly, slangy word.

As such, it's the last word I'd think to use if someone asked me to describe my feelings on the day, in a tiny orphanage off a dirt road outside of Da Nang, when I saw my child for the first time.

I find the use of "gotcha" to describe the act of adoption both astonishing and offensive. Aside from being parent-centered ("C'mere, little orphan, I gotcha now!") it smacks of acquiring a possession, not welcoming a new person into your life.

Yet many adoptive parents have elevated this casual word into shorthand for "The Day I Got You." This past year, one parent went further:

The word smacks of acquiring a possession, not welcoming a new person into your life.

Margaret Schwartz declared September 15, 2005, the first International Gotcha Day, a day to celebrate adoption.

This was bound to happen, as "gotcha" has become thoroughly entrenched in adoption-speak: There are "Journey to Gotcha" blogs, and "Happy Gotcha Day" cards, banners, keychains—even crowns—available for sale on the Internet. At last Google, there were 2,480,004 hits for "Gotcha Day." Curious, I clicked on "Noah's Gotcha Day."

Noah is a cat.

It didn't surprise me to find that adoptees have a slightly different feeling about all these gushing gotchas. Eight-year-old Becca Lampman, who was adopted from China, said, "It sounds weird to say that—call it ‘Adoption Day' instead." Her 17-year-old sister, Elena, adopted from Romania, agreed: "I wouldn't like hearing ‘Gotcha Day' used in my family. To me, it sounds like someone snatched you away from your birth family, or almost like you are a prize that was won...it has a gloating, ha-ha tone to it."

"We celebrate my Adoption Day, and I like that," she added. "Being adopted is worth celebrating, and ‘Adoption Day' is respectful sounding."

Adult adoptee Hanna Sofia Jung Johansson pointedly asked, "What is being celebrated [on Gotcha Day]? Parenthood and the new family, I guess. But do adoptive parents acknowledge their child's losses at the same time? ‘Gotcha' for parents means ‘lost-ya' for children who have been separated from familiar faces, smells, and surroundings."

Another adult adoptee, Eun Mi Young, is equally blunt. "While endearing to adoptive parents, ‘Gotcha' is downright disrespectful to adoptees," she says. "What does this term imply? We use it when we grab someone who is running from us, or when we save someone from something, or when we're playing a game. We shouldn't use it for an event that recalls the loss of culture, country, and birthparents."

I ran this concept past Margaret Schwartz, founder of International Gotcha Day, and she conceded that perhaps "Gotcha" wasn't the best word. "I wanted to raise awareness with the general public about the joys of adoption," she told me, "and I'm open to changing the name of the event."

Why not simply call it "Adoption Day" or "Family Day," or, if there are already kids at home, "Siblings Day"? Why commodify and demean adoptees—and ourselves—by using a silly, slangy term to describe the day we became complete families?

Save "gotcha" for mosquitoes.

KAREN MOLINE is a novelist, journalist, and ghostwriter. She lives in New York City with her son, Emmanuel Thanh Sang, adopted from Da Nang, Viet Nam, in August 2001.

My question is what other adoptive families call the day you met your children for the first time. I wouldn't mind calling it "Family Day" except that I've never liked the notion that a unit of people must have offspring to be a family. At our first adoption seminar, a woman made me sob by making the point to me that Ted and I, together, just the two of us, are a family. Period. We are each other's family, whether we had kids or not. So to say, "Now we are family because we have a child" doesn't feel right to me.

Thoughts?

26 comments:

los cazadores said...

This is honestly the first time ever I've read or heard the word "Gotcha" used in reference to adoption. Baffling.

I would never use that term in regard to my son and this profound, multi-faceted process that resulted in our family.

Cindy

coffeemom said...

I tend to agree with this. We've never used "gotcha day"...somehow it never set right in our family culture, usage, whatever....I think this is an important perspective. We often say instead, "the day you came home." but even that, if looked at the wrong way, could be offensive...even so, you have to pick something so you are not mute either. But for us, it's not "gotcha"...that's just too flip or shorthand or somehow slangy for such a profound change. For us. Thanks for this Lori! Love M

tracey said...

I've seen this term used in adoption many times and I've always thought it was a strange usage but I get that is meant to be fun and light-hearted. Personally I don't use it. It just doesn't work for my vision of that day. I'm still trying to find the right word. Right now I just say "the first day I held you."

Mama Dog said...

Oh Lori, I love you. I love this Karen Moline now as well. You know, I have a friend who is adopted and she said that every year her family would celebrate her birthday and then they would also celebrate her happy day. On Liesl's Happy Day, she would get flowers and a special breakfast and maybe a little present. Mostly though her parents celebrated the day they all became a family. Isn't that nice? I think I like the idea of celebrating Happy Days in my own adoptive family.

(This all is not to negate the sadness of Liesl's back story. Her family has found their own way to integrate all of that into their unit's makeup as well.)

Blog Shmog said...

"Gotcha Day" has always made me cringe for some reason. It's interesting to hear what adoptees have to say about it. Thanks for posting this.

courtney rose said...

Thank you for posting this dearest Lori....

PVZ said...

This is interesting, I do think the word "gotcha" can have some negative implications that were not intended. How about celebrating "Addition day" adding to your family to make it more than it was...

I love that ytou all put so much thought into this, more than anything this shows how much you care.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lori...
this is becca :).
I agree... gotcha is weird to me. like you captured something... i don't know. don't like it though.
But, I have this other element too, that I wrestle with, and that's my other two kids. they have one day that we celebrate them... their birthday. If we give Sam two days to celebrate him, his alleged birthday and the day we met him, he's set apart from his siblings. Will he resent that when he's older? will Leah and Pete resent that? Will all that difference be too emphasized? Should it be? They did come into our family in different ways though, so should it be celebrated? Yes, but how?
I have no answers and I'm clearly of little help.
But, thanks for posting the article- great things to think about!

Jill said...

great post. gotcha has always seemed odd to me, but never put much thought into it. we've never celebrated anything different than peyton's bday...maybe because we were there and went home together two days later. dont' know. we don't celebrate her "official" court date either. Some how it seems nice to celebrate that day (especially for you and others who did it months/years after the birth day), but i can see the weirdness with other siblings too. interesting to think about.

Mamushsky World Headquarters said...

We celebrate the first day we met as "FOREVER DAY" and we also celebrate referral day as "Mamush Day," since it is the first day we saw Mamush's cute little face.

Rusty Spell said...

Carrie and I always ask each other to do things "for the family," so that proves that family can be only two.

Claudia said...

Hmmmm... it's a tough one. I do want to celebrate this day. I quite like the term [insert name here] day. (Okay, it's better with an actual name). I dislike 'family' day , for the same reason as you - we already ARE a family. Family day is our wedding anniversary, I guess!

I read, somewhere (and i have NO idea where, now) the idea of celebrating / acknowledging some of the difficult parts of the adoption story on the night before a celebration day. So, for example, mothers day is for celebrating 'forever family', but the night before mothers day is a time to light a candle/ look at life story book / some other how officially acknowledge the child's 'other mother'. I wonder if anything similar could be used for this celebration.

I can totally see that I don't want a child thinking that their adoption was nothing but a big party, and that we don't realise they also face loss, but.... I would hate to tiptoe so much around the issues that we never actually felt we could celebrate the things worth celebrating. And I do think that [insert name here] day is worth celebrating!!! Let us know what you decide :)

Rebecca said...

I'm definitely not a fan of using 'gotcha'. This is a great article. I hope it brings awareness to others!

I don't know what we'll call the day in our family. Eli day? I mean, really - December 22nd was and will forever be all about Eli.

Ellen said...

I really love reading all of these thoughts of those who have gone before me. I never liked Gotcha either...but now have some stuff to chew on in terms of other options.

Autumn and Dan's family said...

"Gotcha" always bugged me too! With Rhett to take into consideration it is tough as to how to celebrate the day we adopted Mez. I don't agree with "family day" either, but the day should be about the whole family. We will celebrate the day, but I'm not sure how or what it will be called yet. Maybe it will be "sibling" day? Not unlike Mother's Day or Father's Day. Does everyone celebrate on the day you met your babes or the day the adoption is final? I'm assuming we would celebrate the day we met Mez. Dalo's Kitchen and baking a cake seems like a great celebration to me.

Melissa said...

Wow, no kidding. I never even considered the implications of gotcha being used. Thank you for posting this. We will be calling it Adoption Day or Daughter Day or Sister Day or something else. Thank you.

~Laura~ said...

I love Lori Rooney!! I'm not a fan of Gotcha Day either....

Karen said...

Since I became the proud stepmother to two gorgeous adopted girls as soon as I got married, I've struggled with how to celebrate all of the adoption milestones with them before, during and after adopting Amilia. I wasn't around for the girls' referral days, or their homecomings, and none of the dates are imprinted in my mind the same way it is with Amilia. Part of me feels guilty about this, however, I have had to realize that we as a family can choose when to celebrate ourselves - all of us - and as we've passed the referral day (we made Ethiopian food and reminisced over seeing Amilia's picture for the first time and how much she's changed) and are now coming closer to when we came home, I've found that for us the day we came home truly is the day that we - all five of us - were together for the first time as a family and that is worth making a fuss about! :-) The day I first met my baby will still be very dear to me, but focusing on the family aspect is much more important for all of us.

Carol said...

Hey, Lori - we've been using the term "Happy Adoption Day" since my son was little and use it today with his sister. In our house, "Happy Adoption Day" is the official court finalization day. Totally agree - "gotcha day" never felt like the right thing to say. Gotcha for some, relinquishment for others - too sensitive a day to trivialize. Interesting post!

Lindsey & Cortney said...

Good thought provoking post. We have never used gotcha day. I think in a post I referred to the day as the day he was in my arms forever. My way of thinking has drastically changed since Cecily (Mekdes) has been home. Ian left behind a far different set of circumstances that did not require me to connect to any one person or family member. Not the case with Cecily. I like the idea of lighting a candle in remembrance of the birth family on the day of or before the day of celebration. I do believe that the day should be celebrated. The day they joined the family unit forever. I know that although Cecily misses Ethiopia very much she is happy to be with us and even happier to know that we are thrilled for her to be here. She likes to hear stories about how much we loved her while we were waiting and how excited we were for her to come here. I believe the celebration of that day will be joyous as long as we embrace the whole journey that led to her joining us.
Good one. So, I guess if I had to pick today, I would call it Adoption Day or Family Day or maybe just [insert name here] Day.
Lindsey

Julie said...

I hate 'Gotcha' . You've gotten some good suggestions. I think we will try and do something with the re-adoption day. I do know one thing for sure, whenever it is, there will be cake.

Mama Dog said...

Cake and dogs!

nell ann said...

We're still waiting to travel, but I've thought of this issue for months now as "gotcha" has always seemed strange. I know we'll adopt all of our children and while it's important to celebrate each child on their birthdays, I'm not sure if they will all have two different days to celebrate with each child. I think that instead of "gotcha" days, they should just be family days that we would all celebrate being a family, together. I'm definitely still working on the issue and am anxious to read what others continue to post. Perhaps you could even post some of the best suggestions you get. : )

Stacie said...

I don't have time to read all the comments yet so this might have been said (I'm coming back later to read them), but we call it Micah Day. That's still even weird - he was who he was before we met him, but at least that centers the day around him. I've never liked "gotcha" and try not to use it. It sounds sinister to me.

Sam said...

This article is So you and Ted! I specifically remember you saying in CA that you hated the gotcha. Someone I know and I can't remember who said that they call it (child's name) day (I see Stacie does that too. I think thats a nice idea. although isn't every day (child's name) day???

boltupright said...

I don't even have a name for the day we celebrate - at this point, when I'm referring to it in conversation with my son, or we are celebrating it, I call it 'the day we met'. Not catchy, but accurate. :) I would be more likely to use "Adoption Day" than anything else, especially in the future when (hopefully) a little sibling comes along.