Culture Camp in Austin, TX

April 18th, 2015

For friends in the Austin, Texas area. I’ve never attended Guatemalan Culture Camp there, but have heard good things. The dates are June 15-19, from 9 AM to 3 PM. I know nothing beyond this, but they asked folks to pass the word, and so I am. Here’s a link to their FB page, and an excerpt:

“We’ve got classes in marimba band, Rupert Reyes will once again have the drama class, the marvelous Jane Wells will lead our heritage art classes, we’ll have the meaningful Adoption Journey classes led by a LSW, and cooking/Guatemalan culture classes, as well as time for the littles to do a bit of running & playing, and the really littles have a rest time built in, too.

“We’re also looking for counselors- we prefer Guatemalan born, but are open to others, too. They should be at least college age. High school students are eligible to be volunteer Jr. counselors and earn volunteer hours. We love parent volunteers, too. All must pass police background check.

“Please pass the word.  June 15-19, Austin, TX. 9am-3pm.”



Some thoughts on adoption

April 9th, 2015

I strive to view adoption from multiple perspectives and sometimes focus too hard on the negative. And by that I mean the loss experienced by my children, the inequality that exists in the world, the basic unfairness of life. These issues haunt me.

I sometimes discuss adoption with a long-time friend, an adult who is adopted, and she sometimes ends our conversations with, “You need to get over your liberal guilt.” If you’re reading this blog, you probably understand what she means by this statement.

Recently I read this Huffington Post essay by adoptee, Madeleine Melcher, and while my first reaction was to think, “Too positive!,” I later reflected that the perspective of Madeleine Melcher is as valid as the perspective of anyone else. Madeleine Melcher also deserves to be listened to. This one line especially spoke to me: “Parents: There is no voice on or about adoption that is more important than YOUR ADOPTEE’S.”

And I took that to mean: I need to listen more to my own my children and their experience of adoption–and a little less to other, louder voices that sometimes drown my children’s voices out.

Today, to myself, I say: Yes, remain aware of adoption’s complexity. Yes, keep my eyes open. But don’t allow the negative things that I know and I’ve seen, prevent me from embracing the good stuff that’s right in front of me.



“About” 14 adoption cases pending

April 1st, 2015

Intercountry adoptions by US citizens are down to the lowest level since 1982, to 6,441 total, reports the Associated Press. No real news there. But here’s an update on the cases still pending in Guatemala: “[Trish Maskew of the State Department] said Guatemalan and U.S. officials were trying to complete the last batch of adoption cases — about 14 — that were pending when adoptions from Guatemala were suspended in 2007….Maskew said it was unclear when Guatemala would be ready to start processing new foreign adoption cases.” An excerpt:

The department’s report for the 2014 fiscal year shows 6,441 adoptions from abroad, down from 7,094 in 2013 and about 74 percent below the high of 22,884 in 2004. The number has fallen every year since then — a trend that has dismayed many adoption advocates in the U.S.

Trish Maskew, chief of the State Department’s Adoption Division, said it was difficult to predict when the number of foreign adoptions might start to rise again after so many years of decline.

“We’re trying to identify places where there’s potential, and work with them to see if we can improve the process,” Maskew said. “It would be great to be as powerful as some people think we are.”

As usual, China accounted for the most children adopted in the U.S., but its total of 2,040 was down more than 10 percent from 2013 and far below the peak of 7,903 in 2005. Since then, China has expanded its domestic adoption program and sought to curtail the rate of child abandonment.

Ethiopia was second at 716, a sharp drop over a two-year period from 1,568 adoptions in 2012. Ethiopian authorities have been trying to place more abandoned children with relatives or foster families, and have intensified scrutiny of orphanages to ensure that children placed for adoption are not part of any improper scheme.

The next three countries on the list showed increases — 521 children adopted from Ukraine, up from 438 in 2013; 464 adopted from Haiti, up from 388; and 370 from South Korea, up from 138.

Russia had been No. 3 on the list in 2012, with 748 of its children adopted by Americans, but that number dropped to 250 for 2013 and to just two in 2014 as an adoption ban imposed by Russia took effect. The ban served as retaliation for a U.S. law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators.

The last time there were fewer foreign adoptions to the U.S. overall was in 1982, when, according to U.S. immigration figures, there were 5,749 adoptions from abroad.





Questions people ask

March 30th, 2015

A while back, a friend posted on my Facebook page a photo montage that had been going around, by adoptive mother and photographer Kim Kelley-Wagner, whose two daughters were born in China. The montage shows the girls holding white boards hand-printed with comments people have said to or about them over the years. Some included “They send their babies here so they can become spies when they get older” and “Your mom could have bought a nice car instead of adopting you.”

A few people expressed surprise when they saw the montage, asking if similar comments had been made to us. They have, although with less frequency than they used to. At this point—my kids are almost 13 and 10–we have our routines and schedules, our circles who know us. Comments occur–or maybe it’s curiosity?–when we go outside the circle. So, a new school for 10-year-old Mateo, a different kid in a class, a first-time activity or sport will provoke a fresh round of inquiries. Questions like. “Why didn’t your real mom want you?” Or “Is she your real mom?” The questions are not intended to hurt, but they affect my children on some deep level. We go through this periodically.

Another place this happens, perhaps not surprisingly, is Guatemala. (Where we visit often.) Always, we are subjected to many looks, some questions, and a degree of judgement. (Which is understandable, but still! Repercussions occur within my children.)

And I realize, again, that as the biological offspring of my two parents, I never experienced this. My belonging was never called into question, the way it is for my children.

Then today, out of nowhere, another example occurred. As we got out of the car, Mateo said, “You know that DVD I watched last week, ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’?” And I’m thinking, You mean the one released by Disney, rated PG, and based on a book written by the famously sensitive Judith Viorst?

I kept my tone neutral. “Yes?”

“One of the girl characters says to a boy character, ‘Are you sure you’re not adopted?’” Mateo emphasized the word ‘adopted’ with a sneer.  “She said adopted like he was bad because he was adopted. Because he wasn’t like anyone else in his family, so he was weird.“

I stayed quiet for a moment. “How did that make you feel?”

“Sad.” He sniffed, wiping his eyes with the edge of his shirt. “If you’re watching the movie and you’re not part of an adoptive family, you don’t care. But if you’re adopted, you get it.”

I pulled him close, reassuring Mateo that I understood, that as his mother through adoption, I got it, too.

I don’t know why I’m writing about this, except I want to remember this phase of my family’s life. We love one another. That’s a given. Which is not the same as saying that every day everything is easy and simple.   ~

(PS: At the bottom of the page, it says “Comments are closed.” I don’t know why.)



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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. ~