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Chào bạn. Tôi tên là Stephanie….

And these are my reflections on learning to speak Vietnamese.

Reflection #1:


I am learning to speak Vietnamese using Rosetta Stone. I have tried all kinds of funky stuff on my iPad that is supposed to help you learn different languages but none of it is really any good. But now Rosetta Stone..! This is some good language learning software. And there a million reasons why. Before I get into why Rosetta Stone is so good, let me explain why I am even attempting to learn such a complex language at my age (that’s for you Steve Hart!).

My youngest daughter is from Vietnam and this last summer we traveled to Asia and went to Vietnam, near Hanoi where she was born. Through an extremely lucky series of events, we managed to meet her birthmother, whose name we had, but who we had been told had moved away. In addition to finding her birthmother, we found her birthfather and siblings and grandparents.

We all agreed to meet and luckily had a wonderful translator/guide/all around fantastic person Mr Long to translate to and from English and Vietnamese as we got to know each other. We got to meet three times during our time in Vietnam. To say it was memorable doesn’t even begin to do moments and revelations justice.

We promised to stay in touch (somehow) having shared email addresses, and parted. It wasn’t until we received the first email from Thang (our daughter’s birthfather) with Steve and I addressed as ông và bà which translates literally to “grandfather and grandmother” using Google translate that I knew we were in for a long, hard ride trying to communicate.

The second email we received looked like this:

Xin chµo:stephanie vµ steve.chóc c¸c b¹n ngµy vui vÎ.stephanie v¸teve cã khoÎ kh«ng?
Mck h«m nµo ®i häc,cã ngoan kh«ng ? mck ®i häc cã xa kh«ng ?
T«i xin göi lêi chóc tèt ®Ñp tíi c¸c b¹n.
Võa qua t«i göi tíi c¸c b¹n, bøc th u b»ng tÕng viÖt, c¸c b¹n cã ®äc ® îc kh«ng?
C¸c b¹n th«ng c¶m cho chóng t«i.vÒ ng«n ng÷ dÞch vµ ch÷ viÕt cßn nhiÒu nçi.
C¸c b¹n kh«ng ®äc ® îc.
C¶m ¬n c¸c b¹n.

Now, even if you don’t know Vietnamese AT ALL, you can look at this and see the registered trademark symbols and see that something is not right here. The new paragraph, division, superscript symbols and possibly some Russian mixed in didn’t help. Either Yahoo did something weird when the email was sent from Vietnam or some substandard translation software was used. Anyway…

I have had to depend on others to translate the emails for me which has resulted in me getting teary in front of colleagues as they read moving text from our daughter’s birthfather. Not being able to say certain things in a room full of people with a translator….there…..

So many things have led me to believe that I want to read and speak Vietnamese for myself.

So I chose Rosetta Stone because like that midwestern farm boy I wanted to be able to speak to that French model. No wait….I’ve been reading too many airplane magazines…..

I chose Rosetta Stone because I did research and they seemed to have the best method and they had a mobile version I could use with my iPad. Yep, for me it’s all about my obsession….(another nod to Mr. Hart).

I am going to end this first installment of my reflections on learning Vietnamese with the tantalizing observation that Vietnamese is a tonal language. So every sentence feels like a roller coaster which is pretty cool, actually.

Tonight, I have my first live tutoring session with a Rosetta Stone native Vietnamese speaker. Wish me luck!



Somewhere Out There

Today, my newly minted fifteen year old and I were driving somewhere and in one quick movement she turned off the radio and popped in her iPod earbuds. There was barely a moment for me to say a word between public and private music, neither of which is conducive to talking. I find myself more and more aware of how little my daughters need to talk to me anymore. I mean, it’s not like we don’t talk. It’s just that they don’t NEED to talk to me anymore.

And simultaneous with that discovery, I realize how much I WANT to talk to them. It seems the more I want to ask them the more they pull in. No matter how delicately I tread, the goofier they seem to think I am. Or at least that is my perception.

So there she was, popping in the second earbud and I wanted to talk to her about anything. So I asked her about what seems to be at the top of my mind these days. Her birth parents. We got to meet McKenna’s birth parents in Vietnam and I have been wondering how she is feeling about not getting to have the same experience.

And when her birthday comes around, especially, I think about birth parents “somewhere out there” thinking about her and wondering if she is ok.

I asked her if we could talk. “Huh?” she said, popping out one side of her earbuds. I said it again. And she said sure. So I asked if she thought about her birth parents. Or if she felt bad about not getting to meet them. And she asked me if I wanted the brutal truth and I said yes and she told me that she didn’t really care.

I was really surprised by that answer. So I dug a little for some clarification. She had felt a little jealous-ish this summer with someone who had gotten to meet the person who found her. Sheridan seemed to have a difficult time remembering feeling that way and when I asked her how she felt about McKenna getting to meet her birth family she said she was happy for her.

Either she wasn’t giving me anything or she really doesn’t care. Either way, my only recourse was to let her know that regardless of how she feels now or in the future I would not pressure her to do anything one way or another but would always support whatever her feelings were. I also told her that if she ever did want to find her birth parents that I would do whatever it took to find them.

My little nine month old sweetheart is fifteen years old this week and the time went by far more quickly than I could have imagined. My main regret is not doing everything that comes to my children with much more intentionality. But despite feeling like I have stumbled through my role as a parent, Sheridan has turned out to be a wonderful, young woman.

I wish there was a way to tell an anonymous Chinese mom and dad how fabulous she is.

First day of school Autumn 2010

This morning and last evening was filled with great anticipation as both of my girls got ready to bridge into a new phase of their school lives. Sheridan, an adoptee from China, started high school today and McKenna, who is from Vietnam, adopted when she was an infant, started Junior High.

Every parent says this, but it is particularly poignant for parents who suffer through infertility and who then experience the joy of holding their adoptive baby boy or girl in their arms for the first time in a foreign country, to see them hit the important milestones. And here mine are in High School and Junior High. I could barely imagine getting to have them, much less seeing them almost driving! Oh yeah….that. Sheridan reminds rather frequently now that it is x many months until she has her “temps”.

And it is a day when I will be writing to share this excitement I feel with another set of parents anxiously waiting to hear how the first day of school went for McKenna. We have been in e-mail contact with her birth parents for a few weeks now, having met them in Thai Nguyen, Vietnam when we took our trip in July.

Our e-mails back and forth are brief and difficult to understand but wonderfully welcome just the same. They speak no English and I speak no Vietnamese. And thank God for even the most rudimentary of translation programs as I have used two different ones now to communicate how happy I am to hear from them and to tell McKenna’s birthmother and birthfather that they have the right e-mail address for us and that she has the photo they gave her of her brother and sister in a frame on her dresser.

I encouraged them to write me in Vietnamese rather than attempting English which they did in their last e-mail to me. I was so excited to see in my Inbox that I immediately sent the text to Google translator which did some weird things to it. Luckily, there is a man from Vietnam where I work who I was able to convince to come look at the e-mail. He was able to confirm what the translation program had provided which was “I hope you are having a nice day!”. And “We received the pictures you sent.”. That’s where Google translator became worthless and where my work friend was such a big help. The rest of the e-mail said something like, “I miss Phuong Thao [McKenna]. She must be getting ready to go back to school and see her friends.”

Google translator gave me something like “financial times February three…..”……total nonsense. Thank you, Tuan for being there to translate.

So we took pictures this morning of both girls to commemorate the milestone.


Of course…..

They will go in……

A scrapbook.

Start up and Welcome!

Well this is my first blog….ever!  So if anyone out there actually ends up reading this, please be patient and forgiving.

I decided to start this blog to talk about and discuss, with anyone who wanted to, my/their experiences adopting children from Asia and our subsequent return to Asia (China and Vietnam) some years later.

We decided it was time to take our two girls back to their home countries this year and so at the end of June, we embarked on a three week journey (and a ‘journey’ in the figurative sense it was too) back to China where we adopted our oldest daughter who is now 14 and to Vietnam where we adopted our youngest daughter who is now nearly 12.

The trip was fabulous, very intense and very gratifying in so many ways.

There is so much for me to process and I thought I would be well-served by sharing some of it and by getting to know some other folks perhaps in a similar situation.

I will begin in earnest in the next day or two with the beginning of our adoption journey in words and pictures.

Stephanie Sackman 8/22/2010