Forty letters

April 24th, 2017


Our trip to Washington, DC included dinner with my childhood bestie, Mary Beth Cullen, whose family lived three doors down from ours at the Jersey shore. Mary Beth surprised me with an amazing gift: Forty letters I’d written to her, the first one dated 1968.

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Foolish pie

April 20th, 2017

A couple friends asked me to explain “foolish pie.” My grandmother was a fantastic cook of Southern dishes–fried chicken and dumplings, green beans with pork with a streak of lean, baked beans, sweet iced tea–and foolish pie was one of her specialties. The pie’s main ingredients are pineapple, whipped cream, and sugar. Served chilled, it was cool and simple on a hot summer night. I thought the recipe was unique to my grandmother, or maybe to Tidewater, Virginia. But I looked it up and here it is on Cooks: Foolish Pie.

My sister Deanna clarified for me why the name: “Foolish” because it’s so easy, anyone can make it. Not, as I assumed, because you’re foolish if you eat too much of it.

Maybe that, too.

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Spring Break 2017

April 16th, 2017

My grandparents lived in Virginia and as kids we spent summers with them swimming in the public pool, running around barefoot, and eating homemade peach ice cream and foolish pie. A highpoint of every visit was the annual pilgrimage to Colonial Williamsburg, including the viewing of the film, “The Story of a Patriot.” This Spring break, Tim and I took the kids as part of our “US heritage” tour. To my shock and delight, “The Story of a Patriot” is still playing. In the same theater. The movie is the longest continuously running film in history, produced in 1957.

My sisters, brother, and I also loved the gingerbread at Williamsburg’s Raleigh Tavern. Spicy, not-too sweet, strangely dry. We ate some today, fresh out of the oven, and it tasted exactly the same. Not one ingredient different. We visited Mt. Vernon, too, then on to Jamestown. A magnificent trip so far.

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Follow up on “Somewhere Between”

April 2nd, 2017

Remember the documentary “Somewhere Between”? About the four young women born in China and adopted to families in the US, who returned to China and described the experience on film. One of the women, Jenna Cook, returned again to search for birth family. Fifty families thought they might be a match, but none was. Nevertheless, Jenna says: “Before, there was always a small part of me that felt like there was something I could have done 20 years ago to have changed my fate and then I wouldn’t have been relinquished by my family. But after meeting the birth parents I realised it was really out of my control.”

This BBC coverage of Jenna Cook’s story reveals some of the complexity of adoption–the conflicted feelings, the evolution of understanding, the ramifications for everyone who is touched by it.

 

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Documentary on Dos Erres

March 24th, 2017

The 1982 massacre at Dos Erres stands as one of the most horrifying chapters of Guatemala’s 36-year armed conflict. Two small boys survived. One, Oscar Ramirez, was raised by relatives of the soldier who killed his family.

The new documentary, Finding Oscar, recounts the search to locate the now-grown-man who is living in a small town outside Boston.

Find dates and theater locations on the “Finding Oscar” Facebook page.

Warning: The movie trailer contains footage that is graphic, chilling, and real.

Directed by Ryan Suffern
Produced by Frank Marshall
Executive Produced by Steven Spielberg

Opening April 14th

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New Yorker article on the Fire

March 23rd, 2017

Must read. Francisco Goldman’s article in The New Yorker magazine: “The Story Behind the Fire That Killed Forty Teenage Girls in a Guatemalan Children’s Home.” Francisco Goldman, born in Massachusetts to a Guatemalan mother, is the author of the novel, The Long Night of White Chickens and the nonfiction account of the assassination of Guatemalan Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi, The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?

It feels as if time in Guatemala may now be measured “before the fire” and “after.”

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Forty girls

March 16th, 2017

Forty girls died in the fire at the children’s home in Guatemala. Terrible things happen everywhere, but Guatemala is where our children were born, where our hearts are. The tragedy feels especially close. This NY Times article by Elizabeth Malkin is breathtaking in its description of life for the survivors, many with disabilities and placed in facilities ill-equipped to help them.

An excerpt:

The fire broke out after a group of residents who had escaped from the home were rounded up by the police and brought back. Investigators have said that they believe the girls who died were locked in a small room as punishment. [Executive Director of Disability Rights International Eric] Rosenthal said that boys interviewed at the home last week said that they had been part of the breakout and that afterward they had been locked up and beaten…

Last year, the ombudsman called on the government to shut down the center, where 700 young people were housed, and asked the attorney general to investigate claims that some residents had been sexually abused and forced into prostitution in Guatemala City.

They said they found alarming evidence of the severe neglect resulting from Guatemala’s policy of institutionalization, a policy that has been repeatedly criticized by advocacy groups.

According to the report, the most disabled children were dropped off … and “left to spend their days lying on mats, tied to metal doors, or belted into wheelchairs…  “Children are self-abusive, hitting themselves, poking themselves in the eyes, or regurgitating stomach fluids.” … [T]eachers reported that [survivors of the fire] were “shouting, screaming and hitting each other,” and with few resources and no medical records, they had little choice but to medicate them.

The rest of the residents … have been moved to other facilities across the country. Health Ministry officials told Disability Rights International that seven of the girls were pregnant.

Many of the children at the home were abandoned; others had been placed there by their families. Last year, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities called on Guatemala to end the institutionalization of children.

But without any support from the government, families often have no choice. “It’s absolutely a question of political will,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “It never occurs to them that kids should be with their families.”

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Unicef responds to the fire

March 10th, 2017

Yesterday Unicef issued a statement on children in care in Guatemala that included these lines: “[S]ending children to institutions should always be the last option, a temporary measure and always for the shortest possible time. Children have the right to grow up in a family and to have the support of the State so that families can fulfill their responsibilities. The confinement of children and adolescents for their “protection” is inadmissible.”

A few thoughts:

“The right to grow up in a family.” That’s what we in the adoption community have said for the past nine years, since Guatemala was found to be non-compliant with the Hague and inter-country adoption shut down in December 2007.

“Sending children to institutions should be the last option.” But for children without support or in dangerous situations in Guatemala, life in an institution is the first and only option. There is no other option.

The belief was held that when adoptions to the US shut down, families in Guatemala would step forward to adopt Guatemalan children. This has not happened and numbers prove this has not happened.

Finally, “Children have the right…to have the support of the State so that families can fulfill their responsibilities.” There is no government safety net in Guatemala. There is no WIC, no Medicare, no Social Security, no Section 8 housing. Parents don’t send their children to school because they can’t afford shoes or books. Gangs recruit boys and girls at a tender age. Where is the leadership in Guatemala? Where is the compassion for its most vulnerable citizens? Government support for families in Guatemala is non-existent.

Unicef, I agree 100% that inter-country adoption in Guatemala needed to be reformed. But you helped summarily end a program with no Plan B in place. And now we witness the tragic aftermath.

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Fire in Guatemala

March 8th, 2017

Our Guatemalan adoption community mourns the loss of at least 19 children in a fire at an orphanage in San Jose Pinula. The fire followed a 15-hour riot waged to protest living conditions and alleged abuse.

Someone asked me via Facebook, “They thought rioting would make it better?”

To which I answered: These children have no voice and no rights and no advocates. They saw no other way to call attention to their deplorable conditions.

Someone else asked, “Were these placed children?”

And I explained this was a government-run orphanage, a kind of full-time care facility for children removed from dangerous situations at home, mixed with children in juvenile detention and children left there by relatives. Adoptions from Guatemala to the US closed in December 2007.

I was shaking as I read the news and watched the footage of inside the concrete facility.

They feel so close to us, those children.

I offer prayers for their souls and for the survivors who must live with the memory of this horrific ordeal.

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My mother laughing

March 2nd, 2017

 

My mother loved to laugh and was the best audience when hearing a joke.

For years, I called her a few times a week with the goal to say something funny enough to provoke a chuckle.  As I began to spin my tale, I’d sense her anticipation.  “Uh-huh, uh-huh. Then what?” she’d say, coaxing me on. She was easy! She laughed at everything. I imagined her eyes brightening as she waited for the punchline.

Laughing was my mother’s default. She’d rather do that than anything else. To my mother, the world, with its flawed and imperfect people, was always good. She looked for the good, the positive, the funny. And she found it.

I read somewhere that it takes six months after someone dies to realize what you miss about them.

My mother’s sense of humor, her love of a joke, her delight at slapstick, a pun, or a pratfall. That’s what I miss.

I laugh less with my mother gone. I miss laughing with my mother. ~

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