Archive for March, 2010

A Different Normal

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Mateo was due for his kindergarten entrance physical exam and I was worried. Not because of his health: He’s a strong and active little boy. What I worried about was his weight, or more specifically the ratio of his weight to his height and body mass, referred to as his BMI. 

Mateo is not a tall boy. At his last appointment, his height fell just under the fifteenth percentile on the growth chart used by our pediatrician. His weight, however, hovered somewhere around the sixty-fifth percentile. The pediatrician asked me why.

 I confessed I occasionally succumb to the convenience of the McDonald’s drive-through and allow Mateo to eat french fries. But we never drink soda or eat chips.  Our diet is based on fish and chicken, with an ample supply of veggies and fruit. “How about juice?” the doctor asked. When I nodded, he clicked on his pen and scribbled something into his notes. “Mateo should be drinking none.” (more…)



Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

I’m told that my daughter Olivia reached each of her early milestones on time. She’s healthy and robust, so I assume that it’s true. The first time she rolled over, sat up, grew a tooth. Said a word, took a step, or blew out a birthday candle. I was told it all happened, but I don’t know for sure. Like many adoptive parents, I wasn’t there for any of it.

My husband and I were luckier than most. We started Olivia’s adoption in 2002, and during those days in Guatemala, adoptive parents were allowed to visit. And visit we did, as often as we could. Over Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, President’s Day, and Fourth of July. Our daughter’s foster parents, who loved Olivia and whom Olivia loved, brought her to the hotel where we were staying and reported on what we had missed. “She’s holding the bottle by herself,” her foster mother said. “She can pick up Cheerios. She likes to roll a ball. She knows how to clap her hands.” And there would be Olivia, baby teeth grown in, pulling herself up, babbling. Each time we saw her, she seemed to be the big sister of the baby we had left behind the visit before. (more…)



Monday, March 29th, 2010

I belong to several online adoption groups, and one of the topics most often discussed is contact with birth families. The collective wisdom among list members—at least those who post—is that contact with birth families is good, and the sooner contact is made, the better. This isn’t always possible. In Guatemala, for example, if a child was abandoned at an orphanage, information to identify and thus find a birth mother isn’t available. If a child was relinquished by his or her birth mother to an attorney, however, identifying information is available. With some effort, adoptive parents can access this information and conduct a “search” for their children’s birth mother, usually with the assistance of someone in-country. (Please note: Adoptions from Guatemala closed two years ago; these examples illustrate the system previously in place.)

Books have been written by people who have been adopted and gone on a quest to search for their biological roots. Some I have read are Lucky Girl: A Memoir by Mei-Ling Hopgood; The Mistress’s Daughter by A.M. Homes; Wuhu Diary: On Taking My Adopted Daughter Back to Her Hometown in China by Emily Prager; and China Ghosts: My Daughter’s Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood by Jeff Gammage. The first two are written by adoptees who make contact with their biological families; the third and fourth are written by adoptive parents with children from China who return there to discover what they can about their children’s heritage.

After reading each of these books, I felt renewed responsibility to my children to discover as much information about their birth families as I could. Not to do so would be to deprive them of a crucial part of their identity. I didn’t have that right. (more…)



Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Spring is here. The backyard is our favorite place. After dinner, the kids go outside to play while I watch the shadows lengthen and breathe in the fresh air. Like many people in Northern California, we do our best to conserve water by not growing a lawn. Our back slope is filled with yellow flowers that look like daisies but aren’t daisies; does anybody know what they’re called? We don’t. The flowers attract the bees that pollinate the fruit trees. Bees, we have a lot of them, but we stay out of each others’ way.

Spring. The rain we had this winter is paying off.


The Pen Pal

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Olivia has a pen pal. The pen pal is a friend of mine, a woman who lives on the east coast. In the beginning of this school year, Olivia discovered that her best friend, a girl she’d known since kindergarten, wasn’t in her class, and Olivia was struggling socially without her. I told my friend about this, a woman I’ll call “Lisa,” and Lisa said, “How about I become Olivia’s pen pal? It’s not the same as a classmate, but she’d probably love to get mail.” 

Lisa was right. The highlight of Olivia’s week is now getting a letter from Lisa. The letter is never complicated: just news of Lisa’s family and the antics of her dog. “Listen to this,” Olivia said yesterday. “Lisa wrote, ‘My doggy is sitting on my lap. It’s his bedtime so he’s taking a nap before he goes to sleep!!’” Olivia laughs. “Isn’t that crazy, Mom? A nap before bedtime?” I agree that it is.

Olivia wrote back a letter telling Lisa about the hardwood floor being installed in our house: “Already I am concerned about the noise from the sawing. It is shrill and I mean shrill! I have to put on headphones.” She drew a picture of herself wearing headphones, and for good measure, drew a picture of a flower for Lisa’s husband and a leprechaun with a pot of gold for Lisa’s dog. Underneath the pot of gold, she added a caption: “The luck of the Irish even though it is not St. Patrick’s Day.” She sealed the letter and together we walked down the hill to the mailbox and dropped it in.

The loveliest moment of my day. (more…)


The Book Order

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

I forgot to place a book order when the latest flyer from Scholastic was placed in Mateo’s cubby at preschool. I meant to. He and I had sat down at the kitchen table a couple of weeks ago and marked the items he wanted. Books about cars and trucks, bunnies and foxes, numbers and counting, songs. And the section in the flyer with toys in it? We checked those boxes, too.

Today when I picked Mateo up from preschool, he greeted me with an uncharacteristic frown. “You forgot the book order,” he said as his little friends danced around him clutching plastic Ziploc bags filled with paperbacks. “Everybody got books except me.” He cried as I buckled him into the car seat and cried all the way home.  At dinnertime, tears streamed down his face as he pushed away his plate.

 “Mommy forgot the book order!” he wailed when Tim walked through the door. “Everyone but me got a packet.” (more…)



Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

When I had the idea to rip out the 20-year-old ratty carpet downstairs and replace it with hardwood floors, I forgot that someone—read: me—would need to pack into boxes every single item and carry them upstairs. The problem is that the downstairs has become our house’s de facto floor-sized closet, the black hole into which I throw everything I lack the heart to throw out. By which I mean every sheet of paper on which my children have inscribed a pencil mark, every tempera paint hand print, every shaky capital letter “M” for Mateo, the note from Olivia that states: “I lov yu no maddr whut” or the one over my desk: “Yur the best momy ever.” The packing job is taking days.

I am a woman who owns three pairs of blue jeans and two pairs of sneakers. My makeup routine consists of a swipe of L’oreal lipstick I buy at CVS. Except for my books and Guatemalan handicrafts, I collect nothing.  But give me a face drawn with marker on a paper plate, a paper towel drenched with watercolor, or a Valentine’s card like the one Mateo gave me (inscribed, mysteriously, with “we love carrots”), and I figure there’s always another plastic storage container to be bought, another box to be scavenged from Safeway. Somewhere, I’ll make space. (more…)


The Con Artists

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

On Friday, March 19, Ezequiel Abiu Lopez of the Associated Press reported that Jorge Puello was arrested on human-trafficking charges in the Dominican Republic. Puello, age 32, is described as a “fugitive who once acted as the attorney for a group of U.S. Baptist missionaries accused of kidnapping 33 Haitian children.” The article goes on to say Puello is also wanted in Vermont and Canada for smuggling illegal immigrants, as well as in Philadelphia for violations related to fraud charges.

For someone like me who has adopted two children from Guatemala and closely observed that country’s adoption practices in the years since, this feels like deju vu all over again.  Jorge Puello is a con artist I already know. These con artists are a small but powerful minority who operate in the shadowy corners of international adoption, able to manipulate and exploit naive and trusting adoptive parents by preying on their emotions. The cons often operate in a country not their own and are therefore immune to the host country’s legal censure. Thus, when our first adoption became troubled and stalled due to improper practices,  the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala could claim “It’s not our problem,” as could the authorities in Guatemala. Only months into the process did we discover that our facilitator previously had worked in programs of other countries. When those countries shut down, the facilitator changed the agency name and resurfaced in Guatemala. When the U.S. Embassy  finally “banned” the facilitator from submitting cases to the Embassy, he simply hired workers to submit cases on his behalf.  A skilled con artist knows exactly how far he can go before  he breaks an international law.

Adoptions from Guatemala have been closed to families from the United States for two years. With new regulations in place, they are due to reopen in June. It will remain to be seen if the Jorge Puellos of the world will jump from Haiti and reopen for business in Central America.  (more…)


The Fan Club

Friday, March 19th, 2010

When my 81-year-old mother was 17, she left her small town in Virginia to seek fame and fortune as a professional dancer in New York City. She determined quickly that she was out of her league—there are some great dancers in New York—and returned home to build her confidence and teach in the local dance studio where she had trained. Twelve months later, technique sharp and esteem boosted, she returned to the Big Apple and knocked on the stage door of the Music Hall to request an audition. This time, the Rockettes said “Yes.”

My mother danced in that glorious line for five years, until she met and fell in love with my father. She quit the troupe to form a family. As much as my mother loved performing, she also loved being a mom, and in those days, back in the 50s and 60s, women often didn’t do both. She chose motherhood.

When the youngest of her five children enrolled in grammar school, my mother returned to teaching dance, for five years in someone else’s studio, and for eleven in her own. Almost every little girl in our seaside New Jersey community took lessons from my mother at some point in her childhood. Her students numbered in the thousands. Mom taught them about Swan Lake and George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and West Side Story. She taught them time steps and waltzes, the importance of good posture and holding one’s head high. My mother made moving from a small town to the big city seem possible and performing professionally an attainable dream. (more…)


Dancing Boy

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

We attended a corned beef and cabbage dinner last night, with Irish soda bread, green milk, Pellegrino in green bottles, and O’Doul’s. A young tenor sang “Danny Boy” and a line of step dancers performed jigs and reels. The evening ended with Mateo onstage, in a green hat, doing high kicks. His new career goal: troupe member of Riverdance.

Not exactly what some people might expect from a little boy born in Guatemala. But Mateo is American and lives in California. He’d rather eat hot dogs than tamales. He shows no interest in learning Spanish. As much as we try to keep his Guatemalan heritage alive, he has his own strong opinions.

As I watched my son skip joyfully around the stage, I was reminded of an article I read while we were adopting Olivia. The article profiled another adoptive mother nearby who had a daughter born in China. The mom was relating how she did her best to keep her daughter’s ties to China strong—Mandarin classes, Chinese friends, annual trips—but the girl wanted little of it. “What she’s most interested in right now,” her mother said, “is Irish step dancing.” (more…)