Archive for November, 2010

Book giveaway on “Singlemommyhood” blog includes a copy of Mamalita

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

You can win a copy of Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir and four other great books that include parenting as a theme in a giveaway sponsored this week by Singlemommyhood. Act now, because the contest ends TOMORROW, on December 1.

I met Rachel Sarah, co-founder of the blog (with Dr. Leah Klungness), at a reading of her terrific memoir, Single Mom Seeking. A few days later, Rachel contacted me to compliment me on my portrayal of single moms in Mamalita, and asked if she could feature it in a book giveaway. Absolutely!

Here’s a link to the Singlemommyhood page, with details on how to enter.  Good luck!


Adoption as punchline

Monday, November 29th, 2010

On November 8, I received an email from Bob Stevens of Massachusetts, telling me about a television ad that he found offensive.  Bob wrote: “I learned of your book and website in my research to raise awareness about adoption and bullying. Perhaps you might join my effort to enlighten our corporate citizen, Sony, about adoption.”

He went on to tell me about a Sony ad for Playstation3 that features a father taunting his daughter with this line: “You’re adopted!”  Bob noted: “In this age of enlightenment, Sony Entertainment still feels that adoption is fair game for bullies.” He asked me to join him in celebrating National Adoption Awareness Month by “helping Sony Corp. to be aware of the devastating repercussions of their insult.”

One way I could do that was by writing an editorial, which I did. “Adoption is not a line for a gag” appeared in the November 29, 2010 edition of the Marin Independent Journal in the “Marin Voice” section. Click here to read the article, or read it pasted below.

Bob also suggested writing to complain to Jack Tretton, President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America. I sent a short email outlining why I found the commercial offensive, and you can too. Mr. Tretton’s email address is

Finally, here’s the link to the ad, posted on YouTube with 95,000 views and counting. After watching it, you may be inspired to act in some small way to raise sensitivity about adoption.

Thank you for caring. Here’s my article.

Marin Voices: Adoption is not a line for a gag
By Jessica O’Dwyer

PICTURE the scene: You’re at home watching Kung Fu Panda on the FX Channel with a group of teenagers, when a commercial comes on for Sony’s Playstation 3.

The product advertised promises to improve your golf game. The camera focuses on a middle-aged mom practicing her swing, then zooms in for a close-up of her father’s face. To break his daughter’s concentration, the dad taunts her by saying, “You’re adopted!”

According to my friend who was there, the teens watching Kung Fu Panda saw the commercial and reacted with stunned silence.

Why? Because, like 1.5 million other children in this country–2 percent of all U.S. children–each one of the teens was adopted.

As an adoptive mother to two children myself, I am acutely aware of how sharply and deeply thoughtless comments about adoption can cut. No matter how loved a child is, or how well-adjusted, a cruel and thoughtless remark pierces to the core of their very being.

There’s a reason the writers of the Sony ad chose that particular line of dialogue. They knew it would hurt. Too often, the tone and delivery of the word “adopted” implies “less than,” “inferior,” and “unwanted.” The subtext is crystal clear.

Much like skin color, religion, size and shape, adoption is something most children did not choose for themselves. It is a state of being that is immutable.

Even when wonderful, adoption is not simple, and it’s not easy. Volumes have been written on the subject, with titles such as “The Primal Wound,” “Silent Tears” and “Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self.”

 In my house, on most days, there is nothing facile about adoption.

Yes, there is love and joy, but for my daughter and son, and, by extension, for my husband and me, there is also pain and loss, identity struggles and unanswered questions. That’s not even factoring in the complicated emotions of our children’s birth families.

Why is adoption considered fair game for mockery?

Two recent films — Orphan and Pauly Shore Adopted — demonstrate how popular culture treats the subject. Both films give viewers permission to make fun of kids who are adopted.

I try to imagine a movie that makes equivalent fun of essential elements of myself, one that crudely mocks my religion or skin color. Legions of viewers would stand beside me and protest.

Indeed, laws and potential lawsuits protect us from such “entertainment.” Making fun of adoption is equally wrong.

I, for one, am taking a stand and saying, “Enough.”

According to a study by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, some 60 percent of Americans report a personal connection to adoption, either knowing someone who has been adopted, adopting a child, or relinquishing a child for adoption. Does Sony Corp.’s Playstation division only employ people belonging to the other 40 percent?

How can an entire company be so insensitive to the facts of adoption in this country? Adoptive families are here to stay. We are your neighbors and coworkers, your colleagues and friends. We have feelings, too.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month.

According to a recent survey released by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and the Adoption Institute, in America today, more than 134,000 children wait in foster care for adoptive homes. Worldwide, some 163 million children live without families. Instead of making jokes about kids who are adopted, shouldn’t we focus our efforts on finding ways to help the 163 million orphans who are not?

The words “You’re adopted” are far too serious to serve as mere punch line.


Adoptee and reform-advocate Betty Jean Lifton memorialized in NY Times

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

This morning, I read in The New York Times that ”writer, adoptee and adoption-reform advocate” Betty Jean Lifton died on November 19 in Boston. She was 84. Ms. Lifton was born in Staten Island in 1926. Her birth mother is described as “a 17-year-old girl”; her birth father as a “bootlegger and bon vivant.” The couple was unmarried. Ms. Lifton was placed in foster care; a Cincinnati couple adopted her when she was 2 1/2.

The New York Times says:

Ms. Lifton, who lectured widely about the potential psychological effects of adoption, was best known for a nonfiction trilogy: “Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter” (McGraw Hill, 1975), in which she recounts her adulthood search for her birth mother; “Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience” (Dial, 1979); and “Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness” (Basic Books, 1994).

When “Twice Born” was first published, there were few books about the adoptee experience. Adoption in general was a veiled topic, and adoptees — assuming they were told anything — rarely knew their given names, their birth parents’ identities or the precise circumstances of their adoptions. …

As a result, generations of adoptees grew up with a void where their personal histories should be and, Ms. Lifton argued, with deep feelings of confusion, grief and loss.

She added: “I say that society, by sealing birth records, by cutting adoptees off from their biological past, by keeping secrets from them, has made them into a separate breed, unreal even to themselves.”

Betty Jean Lifton’s writings on adoption are thought-provoking and powerful. May she rest in peace.


Interview on “WomensRadio”

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and ours was shared with my family, my sister Patrice, and good friends. My plan is to write more about it soon, but right now I’m posting a link to a radio interview I did with Pat Lynch for the  Speak Up! series on WomensRadio.  Click on the link to listen to it here.

Being interviewed “live” is still a new experience for me. I must say, I’ve gained a new respect for people who speak in front of microphones or cameras. But Pat Lynch made the experience delightful. As always, I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk about my favorite subject, adoption.


Birthday Boy

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

This month, my baby boy Mateo turned six. Our celebration was small–just family and my sister, Patrice, and another adoptive mom and her two girls who stopped by later for cake. Lucky for me, we’ve never had gigantic parties for either of our children, so their expectations aren’t too grand. (Although, I have to admit, with my book launch this month, and readings scheduled back-to-back, I focused less on organizing a birthday than usual. I promised Mateo we’d celebrate again after the holidays.)

His favorite present? A ream of clean, white, copy paper. You have to understand, in our house, unless absolutely necessary, we only use paper that is recycled–and by that I mean paper that has been printed already, with type on one side. Especially after living in Guatemala, I am careful about not wasting anything, and paper is high on my list. So a sheet of clean, white, unblemished paper is a rare item in these parts. Mateo was jubilant.

My friend, the other adoptive mom who stopped by, noted how her girls don’t know the actual dates of their births. For birth certificates and celebrations, they must rely on best guesses. Her comment made me realize, again, how birth stories are different for children who are adopted. Mateo’s story with us, like Olivia’s story, begins in a hotel lobby in Guatemala City. But he carries a history with him that we don’t yet know, that maybe only his birth mother remembers. I thought of his other mom often on Mateo’s big day. My greatest hope is that she knows her son is happy and healthy, and loved.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about Mateo. He was only five then–a baby! In case you missed it, I’m posting it again here. Happy birthday, Mateo. My beautiful son.

About Mateo, I say “He wakes up happy.” He’s always been that way, ever since we first met him as a baby in Guatemala City. If we each have an essence, Mateo’s is “joy.” He radiates positive energy and goodwill and exuberance. My friend Julia recently called him “merry.” The label fits.

Why is that? What makes a person who he is? So far, I know very little about Mateo’s biological family. Does he inherit his temperament from his other mother? Is his biological father a humorous man? Does Mateo’s approach to life have anything to do with my behavior, or the influence of my husband and daughter? What makes Mateo, Mateo?

In a little while, I’ll go over to my son’s bottom bunk and whisper that it’s time to get up. He’ll stir and sigh, pull the covers over his head. “Five more minutes,” he’ll say. And five minutes later, he’ll get up, groggy but already thinking positive. “Is today show-and-tell? Is tomorrow the weekend?”

“Show-and-tell is Monday,” I’ll say. “Tomorrow starts the weekend.”

“Can we have pancakes?” He’ll clasp his hands together to show me he’s pleading.

“We can.”

He’ll jump out of bed and run around in a circle. “Pancakes! Pancakes!”

And I’ll say, as I always do, “Mateo, may you always be this happy.”


New Stops on “Mamalita” Book Tour: Fairfield, CT; Santa Fe, NM; Tiburon, CA; Squaw Valley Writers’ Workshop

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

The next few months, I’ll be traveling around the country to read from Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, and I hope, meet other people involved in adoption and/or simply interested in a great story. Four new stops have been added: at the Borders Books in Fairfield, Connecticut; the independent bookstore, Collected Works, in Santa Fe; the Tiburon Public Library; and, along with other published alumni of the Squaw Valley Writers’ Workshop, in Olympic Valley, California. For my full schedule and venue links, click on the EVENTS tab.

See you soon, I hope.

Friday, December 3, 2010 at 10 a.m.
Santee Branch Library
9225 Carlton Hills Boulevard
Santee, CA 92071

Wednesday, December 8 at 7 p.m.
Borders Bookstore-Fairfield, Connecticut
1499 Post Road
Fairfield, CT 06824

Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 7:30 p.m.
Beverly Public Library
32 Essex Street
Beverly, MA 01915

Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 6 p.m.
Borders Bookstore-Back Bay-Boston
511 Boylston Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116

Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 2 p.m
Collected Works Bookstore
202 Galisteo Street
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Tuesday, January 11, 2011, at 7 p.m.
4022 Rio Grande Boulevard NW
Albuquerque, NM 87107

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 7 p.m.
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC 27705

Friday, January 21, 2011 at 7 p.m.
Borders Books-Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Rosemont Shopping Center
1149 Lancaster Avenue
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
Belvedere-Tiburon Library
1501 Tiburon Blvd.
Tiburon, CA 94920

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 7 p.m.
Prairie Lights Books
15 South Dubuque Street
Iowa City, IA 52240

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 5:30 p.m.
Community of Writers at Squaw Valley
Published Alumni Readings
Olympic Valley, CA 96146


Reading at Upstart Crow in San Diego

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

My Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir reading on Wednesday night at Upstart Crow felt like a homecoming, with my sister Adrienne and brother-in-law Paul there, as well as pals from every part of the years I lived in San Diego.

The photo here is of me with my dear friend from high school in New Jersey, the actress Julia Fulton, who lives in Southern California; below, I’m with my former neighbor and fellow bicylist Marcia Banks, with Julia in the background. I’m grateful to Marcia for helping me set up the Upstart Crow reading by introducing me to managers Carola Esquino and Bobbie Bagel. The bookstore is charming–check it out next time you’re at Seaport Village. 

Jae Patron and Zeke Mazer (above ) were two of several Crown City Cyclists who attended the reading. Jae and Zeke and I have ridden many, many miles together so it was particularly wonderful to share this new chapter in my life with them and other members of the CCC. Pictured below are the fabulous Synthia Malina and Jini Archibald, like me, moms to two children and former staffers at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; and Samantha Goldstein, fellow adoptive mom and creator of the blog, Little Dragon Fruit. Thanks to everyone for coming!


The Daily Beast on “Forgotten Children: International Adoption and the Global Orphan Crisis”

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

The Daily Beast hosted the second “Women in the World” salon series event, Forgotten Children: International Adoption and the Global Orphan Crisis, on Wednesday morning at Urban Zen in Manhattan’s West Village, in honor of National Adoption Awareness Month. Everything about the meeting seems to have been extraordinary, from the participants (Hugh Jackman, Tina Brown, Vera Wang, Ambassador Susan Jacobs) to the discussion to the list of 9 ways to help. Please read the entire article, watch the YouTube video clips, and forward to everyone you know.

But first, know that the polled participants agreed that international adoption should never be the first option to help the 163 million orphans (defined as having lost at least one parent) living without permanent families. The first option should always be to place a child with biological family members. The second, to place a child within his community. The third is to adopt out internationally. Remember, too, that last year, only 13,000 children were adopted to families in the United States. International adoption should never be viewed as the “solution” to the international orphan crisis because it can’t possibly address the overwhelming numbers of children who need homes.

Some selected comments:

Dr. Jane Aronson, adoption medicine specialist and founder of Worldwide Orphans Foundation, speaking about the need for post-placement services:  “Children have these problems, and we have to be honest about those problems. People need to know what they’re getting into. And they need to then either step up to it, or not sign on for it.”

Dr. Sophie Mengitsu, director of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation in Ethiopia, speaking about institutionalized care for children: ”Kids are better off in the streets” than in an institution. Why? For every three months in an institution, a child’s development is delayed by one month.

Susan Bissell, UNICEF’s chief of child protection, when asked what kind of contingency is in place to protect children in countries where adoptions are summarily closed with hundreds of cases still pending, such as Guatemala: “At the moment, there is no contingency plan.”

As I said, “Extraordinary.”


Interview on “San Diego Living”

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

One of these days I’m going to remember to bring my camera everywhere. Because today as I waited in the Green Room at San Diego’s channel XETV to tape a segment for “San Diego Living,” scheduled to run the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, I could have taken photos of the show’s other fascinating guests: a 10-year-old boy playing “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” on an electronic keyboard, a gray-bearded grandfather wearing an aloha shirt with a surf board tucked under his arm, and the lovely woman from a public relations agency there to talk about “Shopping on Black Friday.” Her advice: Stay home and order online.

Of course, I may be the only person in the United States who doesn’t know how to use her cellphone camera, or carry a Blackberry or other hand-held device. While everyone else in the Green Room checked email, posted on Facebook, and Tweeted, I was left to review my notes, all the while trying not to watch the monitor showing the guests being interviewed “live,” which only would have made me more nervous.

Everyone at XETV was professional and fabulous, from the parking lot attendant to the receptionist to the Producer Tiffany to my segment host, TV reporter Renee Kohn. Can you tell I’ve never been interviewed about myself and my book on television before? Yes, I’ve spoken on camera about museum events and exhibition openings, but always as someone in the background, and for 25 seconds or less. This was five minutes about me and my family, and adoption, and Guatemala, and Mamalita. The subjects about which I am more passionate than anything else.

Thanks to Renee’s expert reporting skills, the interview went well. She asked good questions about adoption and our process, and listened closely to my answers. In our conversation, I managed to include the information that, worldwide, some 145 million children live without homes; in the United States, more than 100,000 children in foster care are waiting to be adopted. What I forgot to say was that countless studies by pediatricians and psychologists prove that children do best when growing up with a family. Next time…

Renee ended our interview by announcing that on Friday, December 3 at 10 a.m., I’ll be at the Santee Public Library in East County, San Diego, reading from Mamalita. With luck,  some viewers who saw the piece and live in the area will stop by to hear more. Later, I can post photos from the event. I just hope somebody brings a camera.


Mamalita Book Launch at Book Passage

Monday, November 15th, 2010

The Mamalita Book Tour got off to a great start on Saturday night at Book Passage in Corte Madera. The bookseller who hosted the evening estimated the crowd around 140 people. Friends from every part of our lives showed up: writing groups, classes, book clubs, school, work, even a few moms from Mateo’s kindergarten bus stop.

Linda Watanabe McFerrin set the evening’s tone with a warm and wonderful introduction. Linda is the founder of the Left Coast Writers, a Book Passage group to which I belong, and a friend and teacher to many in the Bay Area writing community. As Linda later said, “The room was filled with love.” The generous spirits of Linda and her husband, Lowry, added to that feeling.

In the “Acknowledgments” section of my book, I thank Joyce Maynard as “my teacher, mentor, and friend.” Joyce is all those things to me, and to the many other writers who have attended her workshops and classes. I was so happy Joyce and I could celebrate the book’s publication together.

My friend, Kallie, was there with her daughter Maya. As some of you who read my blog know, Kallie and I met while fostering in Antigua in 2003. She and Maya traveled to Guatemala this past summer with Olivia and me as we revisited sites important to our families. Kallie’s mother and two sisters came to the book launch too, as did her lovely niece, shown here with Maya and me.

I felt especially privileged when other adoptive parents came up to tell me how much they related to the emotions of our story, if not the actual details. One adoptive mom, Meredith, whom I know only through her blog, drove up from Central California so we could finally meet in person. (Meredith, thanks for coming; can’t believe we both forgot to take a picture!)

My book launch would not have been complete without representation by the Book Passage-sponsored Writing Mamas and my Friday night writing group, the Shrinks. By the time I remembered to take a photo, several members of each had slipped away. So sorry—next time!

The Mamalita Book Tour is off to a terrific start. Thank you, everyone.