Article on adoption by Todd VanDerWerff

March 24th, 2015

Genes aren’t destiny, and other things I’ve learned about being adopted,” by Todd VanDerWerff, a writer who is adopted, resonated for me. Number 6, especially, made sense: “Transracial adoptees often have it hardest of all.”

I forget where I was recently, but this conversation came up, and the conclusion reached by the participants was that one of the hardest things about being adopted was the transracial piece–the “not looking like my parents”–because the fact of adoption could not then be avoided. In other words, the reality was plain for the world to see, even if one wished that it weren’t, at that moment, if ever.

This, in addition to the expected issues caused by possibly being “the only [fill in the blank] person” within a large radius. Plus, being subjected to racism–subtle or egregious.

I also admire the way VanDerWerff presents side by side two (seemingly) contradictory statements, such as: “Your adopted family is your ‘real’ family” and “It’s also not your real family, and that can make you feel like an alien.”


The longer I’m an adoptive parent, the more I understand how complex the subject is–to me, there is no subject more complex–and in this article, Todd VanDerWerff expresses some of that complexity. Bravo.



Mm 4

March 20th, 2015

I was in San Diego for the weekend visiting my folks, when the idea came over me that I must cut off all my hair, immediately. This occurred at 7:30 at night, and San Diego shuts down early. I drove around in search of an open salon and found a place with a sign advertising “$25 For You!” (If you know me, you know my weakness for a bargain.)

Perhaps it’s not my best look, but the hairdresser escaped Vietnam in 1975 during the Fall of Saigon, and as she snipped and shaped, told me her life story. I’d say I got my money’s worth.



My mother 3

March 10th, 2015

Something else I’ve learned about dementia, which has taken over the mind of my 86-year-old mother. It’s relentless. There is no backward movement. Only the push forward. I think of the brain, now, as a live organ that can erode. On some level, I knew this. Although I’m not sure I understood what it meant.


Where am I? she wonders. What is this place?

You’re home, I say.  This is your house.

This isn’t 28th Street. (the house she grew up in, back in Virginia.) I don’t recognize these walls. (Looking across the room. In a whisper.) Who are those people?

Your daughters, Mom. The oldest and youngest.

This is a terrible situation. (clawing at the arms of her chair.) I want to get out of it. But I can’t.


Nothing will make this better.

The person you love is not coming back.







Book recommendation, The Year She Left Us

March 4th, 2015

On Sunday, our “adoption book group” met to discuss Kathryn Ma’s The Year She Left Us. Several of us in the group are parents to tweens, teens, and young adults, so the novel’s themes–short version: a young woman adopted from China struggles with loss and identity–really spoke to us. A good book does that. So here I am, recommending it again.

The Year She Left Us, by Kathryn Ma. Check it out.



My mother 2

February 28th, 2015

Here’s what’s interesting about dementia, which my 86-year-old mom has had for some time, and is now in the advanced stages. You can ask her what she ate for breakfast 30 seconds before, and she doesn’t remember. But tell her that friends from the old neighborhoods, former Rockettes, and uncles, aunties, and cousins, are sending emails and posting on Facebook, calling and sending notes–and name those people–and she smiles and says “Oh yes!” She knows exactly who you’re talking about.




February 24th, 2015
     As you may know, while we were adopting Olivia, I moved to Antigua and rented a house where we lived together for six months. But before that, she spent a year with a foster family, the Garzas, from Guatemala City. Lupe Garza was a fantastic cook, and often shared with us Guatemalan specialties–tamales around Christmas, her famous black beans, and the dish most associated with Guatemala, pepian. I loved pepian so much that Lupe insisted on teaching me how to make it. We set a date and the entire Garza family arrived at our small house in Antigua mid-morning–Lupe and Francisco, the kids and their significant others; this was a big crowd–carrying bags of rice and peppers and onions and chiles, a large sack of pumpkin seeds, and two freshly plucked whole chickens.
     After we said our hellos, the men and boys turned on the TV in the living room to watch a sporting event, while the women and girls commandeered the kitchen. On an old videotape in a closet somewhere I have footage of Lupe carrying Olivia in a sling across her back, wielding a wooden spoon to saute the onions and roast the pumpkin seeds as she explained to the camera in Spanish the steps for creating the dish. Beside her, Olivia’s foster sisters and the brothers’ girlfriends chopped and sliced and minced and pummeled. They laughed and spoke fast, again in Spanish, words I couldn’t understand.
     I hadn’t thought about this particular day for years–although since then I’ve eaten pepian many times–until I saw this recipe by Antigua photographer/blogger Rudy Giron. As I read through it, the entire memory came back. The morning that became afternoon that became evening. The sharp smell of chiles, and garlic, and oregano. The sizzling of the browning chicken. The scent of pumpkin seeds, toasted. The way Lupe tied Olivia into the sling and carried her across her back. Olivia’s foster brother running out at the last minute to buy tortillas from the seller in front of Pollo Campeo. The Garzas seated at my table eating pepian. Olivia sitting on her foster sister’s lap. Everybody hugging at the front door. Olivia waving bye-bye, with a backwards wave, the way Lupe Garza taught her. ~



My mother the dancer

February 20th, 2015

Today in the car I heard a Chopin piano piece that I’ve heard hundreds of times in ballet classes over the years, including with my mother in her studio. (A former Rockette, she owned a dance studio in our small New Jersey town, and taught tap, jazz, and ballet.) The Chopin piece is always played at the end of the class, when the girls leap across the floor in what is called “big jumps.” My mom is now in home hospice care, confined to her bed, and using a wheelchair. She can’t find the words to make a sentence.

But this morning when I called her, I hummed the tune of the Chopin, and just for a moment she remembered the feeling of flying across the floor, suspended in air, the freedom of that, the joy.

“Beautiful,” she said.



Heritage Camp for Adoptive Families

February 13th, 2015

Registration for Heritage Camp for Adoptive Families (in Colorado) opens on February 23. We’ve attended many times and loved the experience. Two years ago, we went early and drove around Colorado–from Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, up to Estes and through Rocky Mountain National Park. Stunning! Last year, a girl Olivia met the first year we attended visited us in California and Olivia flew up to Oregon to visit her. Friendships made there, last. And not only for us. I’ve heard the same from other families.

Heritage Camp is a specific experience–different from traveling to birth country, absolutely, but, in my opinion, equally valid, equally identity-affirming. You walk in at registration and look around, and every family there feels like yours. A realization comes over you: “We’re not alone. We’re part of a great big beautiful group. And here we are together.” I’ve learned a lot from attending the workshops, especially those that include panels of youth and adults born in Latin America and adopted to the US. The speakers are candid, and the discussions, educational.

My kids love Heritage Camp, and maybe yours will too. Here’s the link.



Guest blogger Lisa S.

February 9th, 2015

I’m one adoptive mother among thousands, with a particular point of view. Today, I’m posting a blog by my friend, Lisa S., adoptive mother to a tween daughter born in Guatemala. For years, Lisa communicated with her daughter’s birth mom in Guatemala via an intermediary. Recently, that dynamic changed. Thanks, L, for sharing your thoughts.

Open Adoption is a Pandora Box

A few months ago, I was afforded the option of having regular contact with my adopted daughter’s biological mother rather than information traveling through a third party, once a year at best. I jumped on this opportunity enthusiastically, relieved that we would always know her whereabouts, and if my daughter chose to meet her one day, it will be possible.

My daughter took this new development in stride, and her curiosity waned quickly. I realized that I was far more interested in her biological mother than she was. This probably doesn’t surprise readers who are adoptive mothers. We are motivated to get information about our child’s birth family for multiple reasons, not the least being genetic health issues. But in reality, most of our children’s birth families in developing countries have never seen a doctor in their life and probably never will.

But fast forwarding 20-30 years when I may very well have left this world (I’m already 61), I can’t help but wonder what will happen when I am no longer alive and my daughter is an adult. As her birth mother ages, it will be harder for her to provide for herself and her family. Will my daughter feel that she has a moral obligation to help her biological mother and keep in contact? And how tragic will it be for the birth mother if my daughter decides that she doesn’t want contact?

When I first searched for the birth mother I had one thought in mind: I want to give my daughter the option to meet her birth mother one day if she so chooses. But this decision is accompanied by a plethora of complications. I have opened the Pandora box.

–By Lisa S.



NY Times photo essay on “Child, Bride, Mother”

February 8th, 2015

In case you haven’t seen this February 8, 2015, NY Times piece by Stephanie Sinclair, Child, Bride, Mother, please take a look. The photo essay is part of a series about child brides around the world; in this case the focus is on Guatemala. It’s a story many of us know first-hand, or through friends. From the article:

“In Guatemala, the legal age of marriage is 14 with parental consent, but in Petén, in the northern part of the country, the law seems to be more of a suggestion. Underage brides are everywhere.”

Organizations do promote contraception in some larger villages and towns, but culturally, it is not always accepted or understood. In 2006, the Guttmacher Institute did a study of reproductive health in Guatemala, titled Induced Abortion and Unintended Pregnancy in Guatemala. The study states that 32% of pregnancies in Guatemala are unintended. Abortion is illegal in Guatemala, but the study found an estimated 65,000 abortions are performed annually, for an average of one abortion for every six live births. Complications from unsafe abortions are a leading cause of maternal death in Guatemala.

Thousands of poor young women in Guatemala have little control over their own lives. Basics we take for granted here–education, nutrition, healthcare, reproductive autonomy–are out of reach for them. And as this photo essay illustrates, even today, the cycle continues.