Intercountry adoption now

November 26th, 2014

EJ Graff, who writes often about inter-country adoption, authored a summary of its current state as seen through the lens of Ethiopia (mainly). The article is thorough and well-researched, although the title, to me, feels gratuitously offensive: They Steal Babies, Don’t They? (Is that the way to open a productive conversation? With an insult? Note to EJ Graff: You lost a big chunk of your potential audience right there.)

In any case, Graff’s main idea confirms that inter-country adoption, as it was practiced in the past (by some), is over.

“It’s been 14 years since the U.S. Senate ratified our nation’s entry into the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Slowly, the State Department and Congress have put into place the rules, regulations, and laws that make it possible to keep open international adoption agencies that do their work carefully and respectfully—while at the same time closing agencies that “find” children for adoption through bribery, deception, coercion, and kidnapping. With the right kind of oversight, international adoption may be able to shed some of its systemic problems. It will never be perfect, but it can return to its roots as a system that finds families for needy children, instead of looking for children to fill families.

“In 2004, the peak year for international adoptions, Americans adopted nearly 23,000 children from other countries, according to the U.S. State Department. For years, those numbers had increased every year, mostly infants and toddlers. By 2012, Americans adopted only 8,668, and a larger proportion were older and special needs—the children who most urgently do need new homes abroad, according to international child welfare experts. And as surprising as it may sound, that’s good news, for families and children around the world.”

My wish for 2015 is that folks who write and think about adoption could acknowledge this paradigm shift and move on to discuss the new challenges in front of us. Such as: The lives of our children who are here now and how they navigate two worlds and cultures; and the lives of present and future children conceived through assisted reproduction and embryo transfer, and their natural and inevitable questions around identity.

Yes, remember the past. Look at the past. Learn from the past. But move on and move forward.

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Thoughts on “Flip the Script”

November 14th, 2014

A movement to “Flip the Script” on what some people perceive as “pro-adoption” thinking is underway for National Adoption Awareness Month. Following is a quote by Laura Barcella, from the NY Times Motherlode blog: ”

Flip the Script, a new YouTube video by an adoptee writing collective, The Lost Daughters, attempts to combat the damaging cultural narrative that centers exclusively on shiny, happy adoption experiences… For years on end, our culture has whitewashed adoption (both domestic and international), only telling the story from the rapturous perspective of adoptive parents while ignoring the darker realities adopted children can face.”

My reaction on reading: We searched for and found each of our children’s birth mothers, maintain contact, and visit them in Guatemala annually. Thousands of parents of children born in Guatemala (the community with which I am most familiar) do the same.

I may be in the minority (?), but I don’t see adoption simply as a “shiny, happy” experience. Nor do I know anyone who does. Adoption is far, far too complex for that. Adoptive parents like me–I hope–have learned from the experiences and writings of those who have gone before us–adoptees and birth mothers and fathers–as well as by living every day as adoptive parents.

We don’t simplify adoption. Our reality prevents us from simplifying adoption. Sometimes I wonder if people think we don’t “see” the challenges our children face. The struggles imposed on them by adoption. We get it. Or at least I do. And I don’t think I’m alone among adoptive parents.

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Thoughts on “Gotcha Day”

November 5th, 2014

For National Adoption Month, the Huffington Post is running a series of articles on the subject, written by different members of the triad. Here’s a link to a very thoughtful piece by a young woman adopted from China, about the implications of the term “Gotcha Day.” (We don’t use this phrase in our family, just so you know.) The third paragraph is quite profound. Here’s an excerpt:

“Gotcha Day is one of those times when we think about our past and how little some of us actually know about it. We think about our biological parents and wish we knew them and could ask them why they didn’t keep us. We think about what our lives would be like, where would we be, what our futures would look like, had there been no Gotcha Day.”

Gotcha Day Isn’t a Cause for Celebration by Sophie Johnson

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“Twin Sisters” on PBS

October 25th, 2014

Twin Sisters, a PBS documentary about identical twin girls abandoned in a cardboard box in China and adopted to families in Norway and the United States, will be available for viewing until November 19 by clicking on this link. If you’ve ever doubted the power of DNA, this film will convince you we are who are from the moment we’re born, wherever we grow up. Our essence is hard-wired.

While viewing the movie, I thought about my children’s biological families. We searched for and found them in Guatemala, and every visit, I witness my children’s joy and ease at being among relatives who look, move, and laugh the same way my kids do. My children sense they belong on a blood level, and it shows. The girls in Twin Sisters behave the same way: whether running toward each other for a hug, holding hands, or brushing their hair, the twins “know” each other. That kind of familiarity, especially among children, can’t be faked.

Watching the film also confirmed for me how vital community is for adoptive families. Not everyone can find a biological sibling or parent. But we can all reach out to the adoptive family in our town, our school, our sports team, our place of worship. The longer I’m an adoptive parent, the more convinced I am that connection is key to the well-being of our kids, and us as parents, too. We need to be around families like ours. Our children need to be around others who share their specific experience.

The two sets of adoptive parents in Twin Sisters have given their girls a great gift: a relationship with each other. I hope the filmmaker plans a sequel. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Kathryn Ma’s “The Year She Left Us”

October 24th, 2014

 

I just finished reading Kathryn Ma’s novel about a young woman adopted from China, “The Year She Left Us.” It’s a masterful story, brutal in many parts for this adoptive mother to read (recognizing myself as the well-meaning but undoubtedly often-misguided and annoying embracer of all things “cultural” and “adoption-related”), that captures the rage and hurt and confusion of protagonist Ari–a singular and unforgettable voice. Usually, I resist any book written by someone not directly related to the “triad,” but in this case, Kathryn Ma’s work is so powerful, I allowed myself to be taken in. Here’s a review from the NY Times, July 2014.

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The giant kites at Sumpango

October 16th, 2014

Last year at this time I was en route to Guatemala to find out more about the country’s Day of the Dead celebration. My sister, another adoptive mom and I hired a driver and spent the day at Sumpango, the site of an annual festival of giant kite flying. As you probably know, one element of Guatemala’s Day of the Dead observance is flying kites–the belief is that the string serves as a conduit between the person holding the string  and those loved ones who have gone before.

Teams of locals spend months designing and planning their kites’ themes and designs. The frames are constructed from bamboo, and covered with colorful pieces of tissue paper, cut and glued.

Afterwards, we visited a cemetery, which was filled to overflowing with families eating, drinking, arranging flowers, listening to music, and in at least one case, dancing to marimba.

 

 

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SF Chronicle on Adoption and the Border Surge

October 6th, 2014

I’m always honored to be included in any dialogue about adoption from Guatemala, including this article by Kevin Fagan in the SF Chronicle, Halt in Guatemalan Adoptions May Be Fueling Border Surge. The reporters did a thorough job, with quotes from Elizabeth Bartholet, David Smolin, Nancy Bailey, Bay Area adoptive parents, and two young men who grew up in orphanages in Guatemala.

Thanks for reading. ~

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A note from Mateo

October 3rd, 2014

Yesterday progress reports came home and this morning I found a note Mateo wrote to himself: “Sit still. Listen to the teacher. Be silly when it’s time.”

Reading his words reminds me that for Mateo, simply not moving is a challenge. He’s set himself a high bar.

xoxo

 

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Organizing moves outdoors

September 22nd, 2014

My organizing has seeped from the house to the outdoors, which, despite the physical exertion, is easier. Instead of agonizing over objects that possess meaning and debating whether to keep or toss–a particular book, a letter, a drawing by one of the kids–I cut and slash with abandon. A wisteria vine that’s taken over the deck, a rogue cypress that requires its own drip, clumps of root-bound ground cover that take over everything. Out! Ruthless, I know, but with the drought in California and water costing a fortune, keeping every plant that grows (which around here means a lot of them) doesn’t make sense.

Over Labor Day,  Tim and I hauled the mounds of brush we’ve stashed for years in a pile between our two redwoods down in the corner of our yard, up the 20 or 30 stone steps carved into our hill, and into the can on our front driveway. That’s twenty cubic yards of green, and we are done.  For now.

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Recommendations for what to do in Antigua

September 8th, 2014

Friends who plan to visit Guatemala often ask me for recommendations of what to do there. I recently posted a reply to that exact question on my Mamalita page on Facebook, and decided to re-post here. That way, if anyone asks again, I don’t need to, as a former boss of mine used to say, “reinvent the wheel.”

This list is not comprehensive–for example, I really like the small Textile Museum in Antigua, near the mercado, but it’s rather low-key and may not appeal to everyone. Also, an Indian restaurant friends introduced me to, Ganesh. In addition, now that our kids are older, we’re exploring towns farther afield. For example, in June 2014, we traveled to the Western Highlands to Nebaj and its environs. Again, not for everyone. I loved the kites at Sumpango, Christmas in Antigua, Semana Santa. But those trips require special planning.

So this is a general overview for a trip you might take in the summer, with kids, when you stay mostly in Antigua. Okay! Now that we’ve established the parameters…

So many, many things I love about Guatemala, it’s hard for me to narrow down. But for a first “big” trip back, a few ideas: the dancers of Ninos con Bendicion. Children wearing traje from each Department in Guatemala, marimba music, and your kids will learn how to make authentic tortillas.  A visit to the Choco Museum. This is new-ish, but a big hit with my children. A shopping excursion to the Mercado, of course. Just to admire the crafts. A stroll through La Bodegona, Antigua’s main grocery store. Jade factory? Interesting, even if you don’t buy. A weaving demonstration somewhere. A meal at Pollo Campero. We saw a wonderful dance demonstration one night during dinner at Posada Don Rodrigo; can’t remember what night. Personally, my favorite place is the Municipal Mercado, near the Artisans Market. I wander through and see the stalls of fruit and beans and flowers and fabrics and ceramics, which for some reason makes me very happy. Could be daunting for a first trip–crowded and dim and a bit hard to navigate–arrange for a guide with Nancy Hoffman? A great store on Fourth Calle is Colibri. High quality woven textiles. Also Texura on Fifth Avenida. Nim Pot on Fifth is legendary, a must-see. Next door, the best bead store in town.

If you have time, a trip to Lake Atitlan. A spectacular setting surrounded by volcanoes. A lancha ride to a town on the Lake. Santiago Atitlan? An important cathedral there. Also, a specific kind of bedspread they make, with a lovely border along the edge. (one of which I own, btw, in purple). Also San Antonio Palpo, the blue pottery. If you sponsor a family at Mayan Families, or even if you don’t, visit them in Panajachel. Or Mission Guatemala in San Andres. A stop at the ruins at Iximche on the way to Pana. Handmade tortillas anywhere. For kid food, my kids love the chicken fingers and french fries at Mono Loco, the pizza at Queso y Vino, the pancakes at Dona Luisa, the fruit plate at Cafe Condessa. Everything at Epicure. Las Palmas for dinner. My kids love their grilled chicken and veggies with rice and tortillas. These may not be the “best” restaurants in Antigua, but the ones I found my kids consistently will eat the food. Which means “best” for us.

Hope this helps! And doesn’t add to your confusion. If you have specific questions, please ask. Buen viaje!

Here’s my post on climbing Volcano Pacaya. Might as well keep it all in one place…

Before I forget, I want to post about our recent ascent of Volcano Pacaya, my first ever volcano climb. Our friend, Nancy Hoffman of Guatemala Reservations, made the arrangements; she hired the guide and private shuttle through The Old Town Outfitters, in Antigua.

Our group numbered seven: Mateo, my sister Patrice, and I; and two other US adoptive moms with sons the exact age of Mateo—eight years old and all energy. Six of us made it to the top; one turned back and couldn’t finish.

It’s a tough climb! Much tougher than I thought it would be, and far more rigorous than the reviews on Trip Advisor led me to believe. We set off from Antigua at 8 AM, and didn’t return until 4 in the afternoon. Total hiking time was about three hours. The remainder was the bus shuttle, the getting ready, and the recovery. If you can request a particular guide, ask for Wilbur, an ultra-fit, uber-capable, bilingual triathlete who led us on an excursion our sons will never forget. Lava formations! A sunken sauna! Marshmallows roasted over naturally red-hot rocks! Not to mention the wild race to get down the mountain and earn the title of first to reach the finish. I’ve never used the word “pell-mell” in a sentence before, but that sums up the descent, exactly.

Crazy!

On the shuttle ride home, Wilbur admitted that guides at Old Town Outfitter lead climbs tougher than the ones taken by other companies, because that’s what their clients prefer. No wonder I slept like a rock that night. But don’t be alarmed: You’re probably in better shape than I am, and, regardless, Wilbur can tailor the hike according to your fitness level. Besides, there’s no shame in turning back if that’s what feels right.

A few tips:

Rent the walking stick. You’ll need it. You pay five quetzales from a local little boy or girl who will greet you the minute you arrive on-site. If you don’t thank me on the way up Pacaya, your knees will thank me on the way down.

Bring a substantial snack. Old Town supplies a delicious lunch, but if you’re like me, you need to nibble. Pack some power bars and fruit.

Carry more water than you think you will need. Two liters per person was not too much. Don’t forget a hat. Sunscreen. Sunglasses. If you’re there in dry season, the sun will blaze.

Wear sturdy hiking shoes and long pants. The lava is sharp, and the volcanic soil dusty. Two of our group members wore bandannas over their mouths to protect their lungs. I wish I’d thought of that.

The boys got to stand in the sunken sauna, which actually is some kind of subterranean hot-air vent. They thanked us Moms for making them wear long pants because their legs were toasting. (Don’t worry: They stayed in only a second.) Mateo cautiously roasted one of the many marshmallows he consumed while I was distracted taking pictures. Near the summit, he and I pose with my walking stick, victorious.

Climbing Pacaya stands out as a memorable highlight of our February 2013 trip. Do it if you have the chance! ~

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