When Curtis Webster and his wife decided to adopt a child, they knew what they were looking for: an older child from Southeast Asia. While browsing children’s profiles through an adoption agency, the couple, already parents to six children, came across a photo of an 11-year-old girl named Trang and knew they’d found their daughter.
Trang, however, was not as convinced.
“I just wanted to stay (at the orphanage) and I wanted those American people to go away,” she said of her first meeting with the Websters.
The journey from that initial meeting in 2008 to the loving relationship Trang and her parents now share is the inspiration for Moonguyen: A Two-Way Tale of Adoption, a novel written by Curtis and Trang.
Curtis, a Presbyterian teaching elder who serves as an interim pastor in California, said that they decided to write a novel rather than a memoir to allow them more freedom in writing. But while many of the details of the book aren’t true to life, the descriptions of the new family’s tumultuous first year and the strong bond they now share are accurate.
Because she had grown up in the orphanage, Trang — who has a vision impairment and is blind in one eye — had no desire to move to a new country and learn a new language with a new family. She demonstrated her resistance through crying, banging her head into walls and deliberately embarrassing her family in public. But Trang displayed an interest in basketball, and so she and Curtis would play together, eventually making up their own game and calling it the nonsense word “moonguyen.” The only rule in moonguyen was that Trang got to make up all the rules, so Curtis often played while hopping on one foot.
“Sometimes it’s the really silly moments in which you really bond,” Curtis said. “It was one of the first areas in which we started to relate positively.”
Writing the book together also allowed Curtis and Trang to talk about past experiences and different ways they had interpreted them. At 8 years old, Trang was given the responsibility of caring for younger children in the orphanage, including a sick baby that ended up dying. Trang blamed herself for the death; sharing that experience with Curtis was a sign that she was beginning to trust him.
Sharing her story and giving others a sense of what her life is like were big motivators for writing the book, Trang said.
“I just want to invite the world into (my story),” she said. “I don’t want to feel like I’m in the darkness anymore. I feel like a bright shining star.”
Trang has grown into a strong and confident young woman who loves her family. She even earned her black belt in karate last winter.
“This girl has had every reason in the world to give up — and she refuses to give up,” Curtis said. “It just feels to me like Trang has been here forever.”
People often assume that Curtis and his wife adopted Trang out of altruism, but he says his motivation was more selfish than that.
“I wanted her as a daughter,” he said, adding that adopting a child out of a sense of Christian duty is not the right reason to adopt. “You’ve got to feel a sense of call to being a parent.”
But Curtis said his faith did sustain him during the dark adjustment period.
“I have to have faith that we are being given the strength and perseverance in making this work,” he said.
Moonguyen is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle formats.