COLORADO FAMILY EMBARKS ON UNIQUE YEAR LONG ADVENTURE TO CHINA
Johanna Garton explores adopted children’s roots in her poignant memoir “Awakening East”
DENVER, CO — Just a few years after adopting son, Will, and daughter, Eden, from China, Johanna Garton and her husband made the decision to move their family across the world for one year to fully immerse themselves in their children’s culture and place of origin. Awakening East (Oct. 23; Marcinson Press) is the result of their epic adventure.
Beginning as a series of blog posts, Awakening East began to develop into a tale of humor, hardships and life lessons after Garton dived more deeply into the backstory and emotional journey each family member experienced while living abroad.
“We were each going through the same stressful situations in moving to a new country, but we had our own journey to overcome struggles,” says Garton. “When plunked in a foreign country and depending only on each other, the processes we each went through were amplified.”
While their year in China gave Garton broadened wisdom and understanding, she says her most memorable experience was visiting her son’s orphanage and daughter’s foster family. “We adopted both children at the age of 12 months, so being able to piece together more details from the first year of their lives was invaluable.”
Garton’s hopes her memoir will inspire readers to understand that adoption doesn’t always have to be a backup plan, but another wonderful option in the choice of becoming a parent. She says, “At the end of the day, having a child call you Mom or Dad is the most important thing, isn’t it?”
About Johanna Garton
Johanna Garton fills her days as owner of Missionworks Consulting, a nonprofit management consulting firm in Denver. She leads workshops for parents on traveling back to China through the Chinese Heritage Camp in Denver through Regis University. For those looking for something a little more close to home, Johanna also developed Kids Yoga Speak while preparing for her year in China. The program is based on Total Physical Response and teaches children Chinese by incorporating the language into a yoga routine. The program can be accessed through the website or through a downloadable app through iTunes.
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Q&A with Author Johanna Garton
You are so candid and funny in sharing your journey. What inspired you to share your incredible story?
The story began merely as a series of blogs I wrote during our year in China. The things we experienced on a daily basis were just so outlandish and so far from the norm of life in the United States that our following grew rapidly. People were just very….curious and amused by our adventures. When I got home, I decided to dive a little deeper into the emotional journey we’d all had, as well as the backstory and what led us to move abroad.
Before I knew it, there was a story with an arc. Moments of drama, humor, tension, intrigue. On top of that, I suspected there were messages that would resonate with a variety of audiences.
What message do you hope other adoptive parents (or those considering adoption) get out of your story?
Most people approach the creation of a family with the same goal: wanting to be a mom or a dad. Adoption isn’t typically front and center when most people plan to start a family, but I’ve always seen it as merely representing another road to the same end point. I encourage people not to think of adoption as a backup plan, but as another wonderful option. The journey to become a parent is laden with highs and lows – no matter how you get there. At the end of the day, having a child call you Mom or Dad is the most important thing, isn’t it?
What would be one of your most surprising (or memorable) experiences from your time in China?
In terms of travel experiences, we all absolutely loved Cambodia and in particular, we fell in love with the ruins at Angkor Wat. I found it completely captivating to watch the children enjoy the ancient ruins in the same way they would have enjoyed an amusement park at home…pure, childish delight.
But hands down the most memorable experience for me were the visits to our son’s orphanage and our daughter’s foster family. We adopted both children at the age of 12 months, so being able to piece together more details from the first year of their lives was invaluable.
What was your biggest takeaway from your time abroad with your family?
I think I learned how different each person is when faced with adversity. We each were going through the same stressful situations in moving to a new country, but we each had our own journey to overcome the struggles. We took different lengths of time to adapt, and each of us had different coping mechanisms. This concept isn’t something particularly earth-shattering, but when plunked in a foreign country and depending only on each other, the processes we each went through were amplified.
Have your kids caught the wanderlust bug?
Most definitely. Will and Eden have become adept and eager little travelers.
What are Will and Eden’s perspective on your year abroad in China?
The children both talk about it frequently and fondly. Our time there definitely instilled a sense of adventure in both of them that they might not have had otherwise. Our mantra when we lived there, especially with Will was, “If you can do THIS, you can do anything you want. For the rest of your life.”
You’ve pioneered a very engaging yoga program that also incorporates language learning for little ones. Can you tell me a bit more about Kids Yoga Speak and how the idea came about?
This actually came to fruition as we were preparing to move to China. I wanted to teach them a little Chinese prior to our departure, and found the best way for them to learn the language was through movement. The program uses short stories that incorporate a few words of Chinese. Each story is set to a yoga routine so that children are moving and repeating the new word over and over, allowing it to sink in with physical motion.
This is actually a well-studied theory of language acquisition called Total Physical Response, though I didn’t know that at the time we developed Kids Yoga Speak.
That sounds much like how your book came about, too! Seems like a very natural process for you.
True! It’s always so telling, isn’t it, to look back at the trajectory of your life and see how different experiences come together? The Kids Yoga Speak project actually led me directly to the publisher for the book before I’d even finished the manuscript. Now I just cannot WAIT to see where the book leads me!
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I love the process of sitting down and having no idea where I might go. It’s fascinating to me how even the simplest, everyday experiences can become stories with depth, humor and passion.
How has sharing your story changed your life?
It’s definitely made me more curious about the stories of others. A lot of memoirists are introverts, and I’m no different. I think I’ve developed a great appreciation for untold stories and I find myself constantly deflecting conversations away from myself and onto others. Everyone has vast reservoir of life experiences and I love pulling those out of people.
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