An excerpt from Jillian Lauren’s memoir of adoption, Everything You Ever Wanted, is posted on the Adoptive Families website. I read and loved and recommend the book. Jillian Lauren’s voice is thoroughly engaging and real, and the story of becoming a mother through adoption is, of course, one of my favorite subjects. The AF website requires a log-in to read the excellent interview with the author, conducted by my friend Sharon Van Epps, but you should be able to access the excerpt here.
We’ve moved my parents to an assisted living facility in San Diego, near where one of my sisters lives. My mother now needs assistance with almost everything–standing, sitting, moving in any way–although she can still lift a spoon to her mouth and sip through a straw. It shocks me every time I see her, to know three years ago she did Pilates twice a week and chair yoga on the other days. That five years ago, she could kick over her head and place her palms flat on the floor, and ten years earlier, danced six shows a week in the Palm Springs Follies. At 72, my mother earned an Associates Degree at Palomar College. Her degree was in Dance, and she was the school’s oldest graduate.
How quickly it happens, everything goes away. We don’t think it will, but it does.
The assisted living facility provides occasional entertainment for the residents, and last week, the ‘Rhinestone Grannies’ came to put on a show. In the photo below, you can see Mom in blue, front and center. Somehow word leaked out my mother was a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette–at events such as these, it always does–and the cast members insisted on posing with her. Mom loved the costumes and choreography, the singing and tap dancing. And of course the attention. Those things keep her alive.
A friend in Guatemala sent me the link to a website designed by Pat Goudvis, When We Were Young / There Was a War. Some of you may be familiar with Goudvis from her documentary about adoption from Guatemala, “Goodbye Baby.”
The site features archival interviews with children whose families were affected by Guatemala’s armed conflict, and reflections by those children, now adults, 20 years later. Text on the site describes the conflict, with a link for teacher resources. My 13-year-old daughter watched the interviews of the children from Guatemala, and was moved by the testimonials and footage. Below is an excerpt from the introduction.
“… As I visited people and communities in Guatemala and El Salvador during and after the civil wars, in the 1980s-90s, I wondered about the experience of the children. That led me to make a documentary film in 1993 called “If the Mango Tree Could Speak,” featuring ten adolescents from those two countries, telling their stories of growing up in the midst of war.
“When We Were Young / There Was A War continues the story of those same people today, who are now adults, many with children of their own. I’ve kept in touch with most of them over the years and filmed them again in 2012.”
I belong to a writing group, the Write On Mamas, and for our website, members were asked to review our favorite books of 2015. I chose Amy Seek’s God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother. If you’re a NY Times subscriber, you know an essay Seek wrote, “Open Adoption: Not So Simple Math,” was just posted on the Times’ podcast. The podcast reminded me of my review, which I’ll share here, in case you’re looking for a book to read.
MY REVIEW: “The best book I read this year was a memoir written by an architect about when she became pregnant in college at age 22 and placed her newborn with another family in an open adoption. ‘God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother‘ by Amy Seek is a beautifully rendered, raw account that only could have been written by someone who lived it.
The book begins with the moment Seek first learns she’s pregnant with baby Jonathan and ends ten years later, with Seek successfully designing spaces while Jonathan grows into the smart, handsome son of another mother. Seek captures the complexity of adoption—why she chose it, and why she regrets it; and how she can’t imagine keeping both her son and the life she cherishes.
On a technical level, every one of Seek’s sentences is descriptive and evocative, without being self-consciously florid. Often while reading, I paused to admire the language. I’m an adoptive mother myself who reads many books on this subject. Amy Seek’s ‘God and Jetfire‘ is a stand-out.”
Today is our annual Guatemalan Adoptive Families group Holiday Potluck 2016. The meeting room holds 90 people, and we’re just about at capacity. Our fabulous Guatmama Tiara is hosting, and everyone’s excited. Many of the folks in this group met when their babies wore diapers. Those babies are now soccer players and gymnasts and swimmers, artists and students and musicians. They are compassionate and curious, independent and hard-working, evolving, special, and smart. How lucky I am to live in a place with not only safe drinking water and enough food, but the support and love of my adoptive family friends. xo
In Marin County, California, where I live, an adoptive couple has filed a lawsuit, alleging the County hid from them the violent past of the son they adopted. A writer in Marin, adoptive father John Brooks, wrote an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle about the suit, Even with best intentions, adoption is risky, that makes me want to stand up in solidarity. Brooks and his wife adopted their daughter, Casey, from an orphanage in Poland. Brooks writes about Casey in his book, The Girl Behind The Door, and in these paragraphs:
She suffered violent meltdowns and tantrums out of proportion to her age. She was almost impervious to discipline yet suffered terrible self-loathing, all of this hidden from everyone but us. Pediatricians, doctors, school counselors, pastors, therapists and psychiatrists — all of whom knew of her past — assured us she’d grow out of it. Just set boundaries, be tougher. We found ourselves alone, stumbling from one parenting technique to another. Then on Jan. 29, 2008, Casey took our car, drove to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped.
We learned too late that adoption is extraordinarily complicated and fraught with risk. It is simply not natural to remove a child from her birth family and place her in another, but oftentimes there is little choice. While a good number of adopted children thrive in their new families, a great many don’t. The trauma of separation is profound. How could it not be? Parenting these children is completely counterintuitive. It means ignoring Dr. Phil and putting them first, even if the family experience is chaotic and doesn’t fulfill one’s Disney fantasy. After all, these children didn’t ask for this life, even one of privilege in Marin.
I sometimes read blogs and essays where people complain that adoption is too often described by adoptive parents and society in general as unilaterally good, “unicorns and rainbows.” Not where I live. Not among people I know. But to say so out loud—to state adoption is not unicorns and rainbows, but real life with real children who have suffered real trauma and real loss—feels like an admission of weakness, a betrayal of privacy, or a suggestion we wouldn’t choose adoption again. My children are my life, and I would never change that. Which doesn’t mean every day is easy or struggle-free.
Famously self-actualized, Marin County may have more therapists per square inch than anyplace else in the country. Yet Brooks and his wife “found themselves alone, stumbling from one parenting technique to another.” Maybe this lawsuit will serve as a wake-up call for mental health professionals that skilled and better training is needed to understand adoption–for the children and teens who are adopted, and the parents who love them.
A representative from In Fact Books asked me to share this Call for Submissions for a new anthology. The subject is “Siblings,” about which you may have a story. Click here for complete guidelines.
To pique your interest, here are a few details. Good luck! ~
For a new anthology, In Fact Books is seeking true stories that capture the complexities and comforts of sibling relationships. We hope to represent the widest possible variety of sibling relationships—whether adoptive or biological, step or full, human or animal, one or many.
Essays should combine a strong and compelling narrative with an informative or reflective element, reaching beyond a strictly personal experience for some universal or deeper meaning…. all essays must tell true stories and be factually accurate.
Guidelines: Essays must be previously unpublished and no longer than 4,500 words. Multiple submissions are welcome, as are entries from outside the United States. You may submit essays online or by regular mail.
* Deadline is March 7, 2016
This weekend my friend Marie asked me if I only read books about adoption. (We’re in the same Guatemalan adoptive families group and book club.) The answer, I realized, is yes. (Or mostly yes– I’m a dedicated fan of Gretchen Rubin’s organizing and de-cluttering books, an ongoing project.) For whatever reason, I’m obsessed with the subject of adoption, and try to learn about it from every perspective and angle. Which leads me to another book recommendation, a memoir: Separated @ Birth: A True Love Story of Twins Separated and United, written by Anais Bordier and Samantha Futerman.
Anais and Samantha are twins born in Korea, separated for unknown reasons and adopted to one family in France, the other in the US. The subject is particularly timely because the twins found each other through social media, which, as you know, is a growing phenomenon. Reading the book, I gained a real sense of how it felt for Anais and Samantha to meet a blood relative for the very first time. Powerful stuff. Samantha is an actress in LA, and Anais a fashion designer educated in England and living in Paris. Their families must be proud.
I’m reading Jacqueline Sheehan’s new novel, The Center of the World. So far, I’d call it perfect book club fodder, with many facets to discuss: adoption from Guatemala, falsified papers, Guatemala’s armed conflict. Here’s the description provided by the publisher:
Sofia, a fifteen-year-old soccer star living in New England, believes she was born in Mexico and legally adopted by Kate. But a posthumous letter from her stepfather tells Sofia a different story—one of civil unrest and bloodshed, death-defying heroism and child-smuggling, harrowing sacrifice and desperate decisions.
Sofia’s trust in her mother is shattered. At last Kate must do what she knows is right—accompany Sofia back to Guatemala, the place where Kate found horror and heartache but also the greatest joy of her life. As mother and daughter confront the damage done by years of dangerous yet necessary deceptions, they discover how much love, hope, and happiness may still remain—if they have the courage to face their past.
I love any book published about Guatemala or adoption, and am grateful Jacqueline Sheehan wrote this one.