My mother the Rockette

May 24th, 2016

My son Mateo may be my mother’s biggest fan. We’ve visited Radio City Music Hall in NYC and he’s fascinated that his grandma once danced on that great stage as a Rockette.  Five shows a day, fifty weeks a year, for five years.

While searching on the internet, Mateo found this vintage photo of my mother, as she’s getting fitted for her costume for the Music Hall’s famed Christmas Show, circa 1950.

Thank you, Mateo. I love everything about this picture.

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Butterfly

May 17th, 2016

Brag Alert: My niece, Astrid Swensen, made a Trials cut for the US Olympic Swim Team, in 200 Butterfly. (Translation: she gets to compete in a big meet to see if her time qualifies her for the team.) I love the slogan she’s standing in front of: “It’s not every 4 years; it’s every day.”

Don’t those words apply to so many things? I’m thinking parenting, family relationships, friendships, exercise, healthy eating, and because I’ve set a goal to finish the draft of a novel, writing. It’s not enough to wish the pages were finished. I’ve got to make time to sit in a chair and get focused and do the hard work. Every day.

Kind of like swimming length after length of a pool, whether you feel like it or not. There is no easy way. Only the hard work. Every day.

This is Astrid’s second Trials. She qualified the first time at fifteen years old. She’s now eighteen. Read more about the amazing Astrid in my previous blog posts: Brag Alert; My Niece, the Swimmer, and A Lesson From My Niece.

Congratulations!

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Mother’s Day

May 8th, 2016

Feeling blessed on Mother’s Day and thinking of my children’s mothers in Guatemala. I’m happy we know both women, and are able to cultivate relationships that my children may (or may not) continue as adults. The way the relationships ultimately unfold will be my kids’ and their mothers’ decision to make, but I’m grateful the foundation has been laid.

Also: When my friend Jennifer Grant was asked by the editor of the spiritual website, Aleteia, to compile a list of five books about parenting, she suggested the list include a book about families formed by adoption. Thank you, Jennifer, thank you! (And for including Mamalita). Jennifer is a writer, speaker, and editor in the Chicago area. Among her many books, Jennifer authored a terrific one about her own adoption experience, Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Hard Red Spring by Kelly Kerney

May 3rd, 2016

Kelly Kerney’s novel Hard Red Spring tells the history of modern Guatemala through the lives of four Americans whose stories are linked by the book’s inciting incident: the mysterious disappearance in 1902 of an ex-pat little girl.

The book is divided into four time periods critical to Guatemala’s evolution: 1902, 1954, 1983, and 1999. During each of the four periods, a story is told through a different point of view: Evie, the young ex-pat girl who disappears; Dorie, the wife of the American ambassador to Guatemala during the presidency of Jacobo Arbenz and reign of United Fruit; Lenore, the wife of an evangelical pastor sent to Guatemala to serve in a model village under Efrain Rios Montt; and Jean, the adoptive mother who returns to Guatemala for a Roots Tour with her teenage daughter, Maya.

Each of these characters is an outsider in Guatemala, and much of the book’s drama revolves around the characters’ struggles to understand and navigate their outsider status. No clear villains or heroes emerge: Everyone is flawed, and in many ways, everyone is guilty—of selfishness, of pride, of good intentions gone awry–or if not guilty, not innocent, either.

I turned every page of Hard Red Spring in awe of Kelly Kerney’s ability to seamlessly weave the history of Guatemala through the epic narrative. The plot of each of the four sections is gripping and unexpected—perhaps because the history of Guatemala is both those things–and the characters are unique and memorable. At the same time, Hard Red Spring was, for me, a difficult read. Not because of the novel’s density—although at times it was dense—but because of the underlying message: That as a citizen of the United States, I am forever an interloper to Guatemala, regardless of how fervently I wish to belong.

Despite my discomfort, I wholly recommend Hard Red Spring. It’s  a monumental and important novel that affected how I think, and won’t soon forget.

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The Address by Ken Burns

April 27th, 2016

Totally off the subject of Guatemala or adoption: The Gettysburg Address. Mateo and I are obsessed with it. Over Spring break, we traveled to Gettysburg to visit the epic battlefield and stood on the site where Abraham Lincoln delivered his powerful speech about freedom and sacrifice.

Back home at our local library, we found a Ken Burns documentary about a boys’ school in Vermont that requires students to memorize Lincoln’s immortal words for an annual elocution contest at year’s end. The students, each with learning differences, work hard to master the moving and challenging text.

Mateo and I loved the Ken Burns’ movie, and recommend it to anyone with an interest in history, Lincoln, the Civil War, the Gettysburg Address, or none or all of those things. We also recommend The Address to anyone who parents a child with learning differences, or not, or for anyone interested in education. In short, we hope everyone watches this unique story and is inspired.

Here’s the description from PBS: THE ADDRESS, a 90-minute feature length documentary by Ken Burns, aired on PBS in the spring of 2014. The film tells the story of a tiny school in Putney Vermont, the Greenwood School, where each year the students are encouraged to practice, memorize, and recite the Gettysburg Address.  In its exploration of the Greenwood School, the film also unlocks the history, context and importance of President Lincoln’s most powerful address.

A link to the trailer: The Address, by Ken Burns

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Velvet B’s blog

April 19th, 2016

A good resource for anyone considering searching for birth family is Velvet B’s blog “Familias de Corazon.” Velvet is known to many in our community as half of the search team, V and F. Together, F and V have conducted searches in Guatemala since 2007, facilitating reunions of some 200 children with their first mothers.

Velvet’s posts include “Five Things to Think About Before Searching,” “How to Search for Guatemalan Birth Siblings,” “What to Say (and Not) in Your Birth Mother Letter,” and “How to Make a Birth Family Meeting Go Smoothly.” Velvet lists her contact info so you can email her directly with specific questions.

I’ve linked here to Velvet’s interview with an adoptive mom who completed a successful search for her 17-year-old daughter’s birth mother. The girl’s reaction to the news that her mother has been found rings true to me. The interview concludes in a second part, which you can find by scrolling around the website.

As our children become teens and adults, search and reunion are subjects of increasing importance. If you’ve read this far, you probably know how I feel: Grateful we were able to connect with families of both our children, and can maintain contact and visit.

Wherever you are in the process–and “ambivalent” or “scared” count as categories–Velvet’s blog may provide some insight.

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Inter-country adoption lowest since 1981

March 31st, 2016

Inter-country adoptions by US citizens fell 12% last year, to the lowest level since 1981, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal by Miriam Jordan, based on US State Department statistics. Maybe because I read about adoption every day, this news doesn’t surprise me. So I asked my 13-year-old daughter Olivia what she thought about the statistic. Her answer: “Every child should be given a chance to have a family.”

The subject is complicated, but I appreciate Olivia’s reaction. Here’s the WSJ article link.

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TLC “Lost and Found”

March 28th, 2016

Spring Break this week for Olivia and Mateo and we’re on the East coast visiting historical sites. Because every hotel has cable TV, the kids were thrilled to catch up on Cutthroat Kitchen, Extreme Weight Loss, and Cupcake Wars, programs they miss in our cable-less home. That is, until they discovered the new TLC show about adoptive families: “Lost and Found: Reunited.”

Now it’s back-to-back Lost and Found episodes, one story melting into another–of mothers and their sons and daughters searching and hoping and meeting. Of filling in blanks and seeing oneself reflected, of finally getting answers. Olivia and Mateo are fascinated, mesmerized, transfixed. Glued to the screen.

I’ve written about Lost and Found before, but now that I’ve seen the show myself, I am re-recommending. If the episodes do nothing else, they will generate dialogue. Dialogue is good. It’s a beginning. ~

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Antigua Semana Santa

March 24th, 2016

I found photos from a 2013 trip with Olivia to Antigua during Semana Santa. It was a memorable visit—the processions, the solemn fervor (a balance hard to achieve, but somehow pervasive), the crowds, the carpets. All made better because many other adoptive families stayed at the same hotel and we shared the experience. (We were the lunatics up and out at 5 AM to watch artisans construct their rugs. )

The pix here are from Holy Thursday.

 

 

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Tortrix

March 21st, 2016

If you’ve been to Guatemala, chances are you’ve eaten Tortrix–the savory, heavily salted corn chips with a hint of lime that are sold in tiendas and markets everywhere. Ordinarily, I’m not a big snack eater, but Tortrix are my weakness. In Guatemala, a bag always is stashed in my backpack, ready to be dug into whenever hunger strikes.

Of course, Tortrix and I have a history. Back in 2002, when Tim and I visited Olivia in Guatemala City at the Camino Real, we often did a run to a nearby market for stuff we needed or forgot. And there, hanging by the cash register, calling to me, was the display of Tortrix. The iridescent green bag. The bold red logo. The promise of salt and flavor. I was hooked.

Last week, in the US, I visited my parents in San Diego. They’re in an assisted living facility now, 87 years old and as comfortable as one can be at 87 in assisted living. The visits are bittersweet, as my husband and kids understand. Anyway, while I was away, Tim took the kids to a restaurant he discovered, owned by a family from El Salvador. And hanging by the cash register was the familiar display of Tortrix.

It doesn’t take much to make this girl happy. xo

 

 

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