Archive for September, 2011

Four years later

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

The end of this year will mark the four-year anniversary of the shutdown of adoptions from Guatemala. Hundreds of cases are still pending, and orphanages in Guatemala continue to function as permanent homes for thousands of children. This week, the U.S. State Department posted yet another alert about new regulations for pending cases (“CNA Processing Framework for U.S. Cases Under its Authority“), which you can read here, if you haven’t already.

Is there any positive news to report? This interview, “10 Questions with Kathleen Strottman, Executive Director of Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute,” strikes me as one bright spot of hope. In her answers, Ms. Strottman doesn’t sugar-coat the reasons why international adoption needed reform. At the same time, she reveals a deep understanding of the challenges facing children in Guatemala who legitimately need homes, and why and how governments need to focus their efforts to help them and their families.

Change will occur only when leaders of countries decide that it must. May that day arrive soon.


Mateo’s notes and a visit to the science museum

Monday, September 26th, 2011


Two weekends ago, Tim attended a meeting in the Napa Valley, and because the location was an hour’s drive from our home, I decided to join him. When we returned, Mateo greeted me with the note posted above. I admire the brevity: “Love. Care. Mist.” With three words, Mateo told a whole story. How I wish I could do that. (Although, yes, at the risk of stifling his creativity, I may point him in the direction of a dictionary.)

An unexpected Monday off from the kids’ schools allowed us to tour the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The exciting day included Mateo and Olivia running from fish tanks and animal skeletons to a ”birds of prey” talk and the planetarium, so energized by their discoveries, they made me promise a return visit. I have no excuse: we’re members! Like many things in life, it’s all about making the effort. Maybe if I declare my intention out loud, it will actually happen. In the photo below, Mateo and Olivia are sitting in front of one of the fish tanks, with Olivia holding her latest hand-made stuffed animal—a mama mouse with a long tail and pink nose, wearing a jaunty cap.

Last night, driving home from a pizza dinner with friends, Mateo lost his first tooth. We’ve been wondering if this event would ever occur, and now, indeed, it has. Next thing I know, he’ll be asking to borrow my car keys.  (Of course, my love. As long as you never stop writing me notes.)


Adoptive Families magazine publishes “Mateo’s Family Tree”

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about an experience I had while in Mateo’s kindergarten classroom. The post resonated for many readers, who encouraged me to expand the short blog into a longer essay and submit it for publication. I did, and am delighted that Adoptive Families magazine accepted the piece. Click here to read Mateo’s Family Tree in the September issue.

The essay speaks to my belief that many children who are adopted need and crave information about themselves and their beginnings. And not only children. Adults do, too.

Here are the first three paragraphs, which I hope will entice you to read the whole thing:

Most days, my six-year-old son, Mateo, takes the bus to his suburban California kindergarten, but sometimes we drive, so we can read together in the classroom before school begins. I’ll chat with the other mothers on the playground as we watch our kids jump and run, their bodies radiating energy and happiness.

In a sea of mostly blond heads and peach arms and legs, Mateo’s black hair and light brown Latino skin stand out. I’m white, and so is my husband, but in our home, the contrast in color doesn’t seem so pronounced. It’s out here in the world, at school, even in diverse California, that Mateo and his sister say they often feel different.

On a recent morning, the excitement among the children was especially high. The teacher’s oldest daughter was pregnant, due to deliver any minute. I knew this because all week Mateo had been telling me, “Mrs. Spindler is about to become a grandma!” Our conversations on the subject provided me the opportunity to review the details of his family tree: He was born in another mommy’s tummy, in Guatemala, and my husband and I adopted him when he was six months old. And, according to the social worker’s report we received with his adoption file, Mateo’s birthmother lives with his biological grandma in a town three hours east of Guatemala City. But even that information is suspect. A few months ago, I hired a Guatemalan searcher to find Mateo’s birthmom. The lady who answered the door when the searcher knocked said no one lived there who had that name.


NY Times article on adoption from China and why I believe all adoptions should be open.

Monday, September 19th, 2011

The Sunday, September 18 New York Times ran this article, For Adoptive Parents, Questions Without Answers. An excerpt:

On Aug. 5, this newspaper published a front-page article from China that contained chilling news for many adoptive parents: government officials in Hunan Province, in southern China, had seized babies from their parents and sold them into what the article called “a lucrative black market in children.”

The news, the latest in a slow trickle of reports describing child abduction and trafficking in China, swept through the tight communities of families — many of them in the New York area — who have adopted children from China. For some, it raised a nightmarish question: What if my child had been taken forcibly from her parents?

The details of the story felt familiar to me. As an adoptive parent to children from Guatemala, I also wondered whether or not the adoptions of my children were legitimate. The longer I parented my children, the more deeply I understood the loss endured by their birth mothers. What if those women had been coerced to relinquish their children? Or worse, what if my children had been kidnapped?

How can any adoptive parent not ask the same questions? If one follows newspaper articles, blogs, books, and TV reports, one would believe every birth mother was coerced, and every child kidnapped. What if that described our situation, too?

So I searched for my children’s birth mothers, to hear in their own words the reasons why they gave up their children. Now I don’t have to wonder. I know. My kids don’t have to wonder, either; they’re young, but they’re old enough to understand hardship, and tough decisions, and what it means to feel like you have no other options. At the same time, my kids know they are loved. How? Their birth mothers told them so.

The birth mothers of my children don’t have to wonder, either. “Ana” and “Juana” have seen their children, and touched them. Held them on their laps. Ana and Juana know their babies are alive and healthy, and loved–not only by them, but by me, too. Our family circle is enlarged. At the center, there is no mystery.

The situation in China reinforces my belief that all adoptions should be open–that is, birth mothers and adoptive parents should be allowed contact, and encouraged to communicate. Questions can be answered. Fears can be put to rest.

On a recent trip to Guatemala, I asked our “searcher” how many cases of coercion or kidnapping she had discovered during her interviews with thousands of Guatemalan birth mothers. Her answer: zero.

Wouldn’t adoptive parents like to hear that information from their children’s birth mothers, themselves? That, for reasons of their own, their Guatemalan mothers relinquished their children, not without pain, but with free will? By definition, adoption involves great loss. What it doesn’t need is silence.


Writing Mama on the Squaw Writers’ Workshop

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

A good friend and fellow Writing Mama, Marianne Lonsdale, wrote a lovely blog post on the Writing Mamas site, The True Spirit of Community at Squaw, about our shared experience this summer at the Squaw Valley Writers’ Workshop. I’m posting the link here, not to applaud myself about how great I am to have written a book, but to encourage anyone else out there trying to tell her story. As Marianne says, the journey is long, the path not usually straight. The takeaway message: Keep writing. Don’t give up. It takes as long as it takes. You’ll get there.

The photo above is of the group at Squaw who participated in the Published Alumni Series. From left, Brett Hall Jones, Sara J. Henry (Learning to Swim), Alia Yunis (The Night Counter), Michael David Lukas (The Oracle of Stamboul), Alma Katsu (The Taker), Jessica O’Dwyer (Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir), Lisa Alvarez.

Reading at Squaw was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Someday soon, I know I’ll be sitting in the same auditorium, listening to Marianne read from her first novel.


New York Times: “Desperate Guatemalans Embrace an Iron Fist”

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

This morning, I opened the New York Times to find this excellent front-page article by Damien Cave, about Guatemala’s upcoming presidential election.

Read it here: Desperate Guatemalans Embrace an Iron Fist.

The challenges faced by the country and people of Guatemala seem almost intractable. As one friend commented on my Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir Facebook page, “Notwithstanding the progress stated, can any sane person expect that corruption will be stemmed significantly?”

Another friend, a Guatemalan, said to me words to this effect, “Until I read your book, and saw your reaction to Guatemala–the fear you felt when going to court, the knowledge that someone on the sidewalk might stick a gun in your face to steal your passport–I forgot that what we experience every day is not normal in a lot of the world.”

Damien Cave’s article captures that reality.


Guatemalan election coverage from The Economist

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

From the September 10, 2011 edition of The Economist, The Return of the Iron Fist, about the upcoming presidential election in Guatemala:

FROM hoardings plastered all over Guatemala, the stern face of Otto Pérez Molina stares out beside the clenched-fist logo of his Patriot Party. General Pérez, as he was known until hanging up his rifle in 2000, was once the Guatemalan army’s intelligence director. After coming second in the 2007 presidential race, he is the front-runner in this year’s election on September 11th.

I urge you to read this comprehensive and timely article today. One chilling sentence:

So far at least 35 activists or candidates for public office have been murdered.

What happens in the election will affect people we care about in Guatemala, and their families. As this article emphasizes, much is at stake.


New film about civil war in Guatemala

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

A new documentary by Pamela Yates about the civil war in Guatemala, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, is due in theaters September 14, 2011. Here is the description from the website:

GRANITO is a story of destinies joined by Guatemala’s past, and how a documentary film intertwined with a nation’s turbulent history emerges as an active player in the present. In GRANITO our characters sift for clues buried in archives of mind and place and historical memory, seeking to uncover a narrative that could unlock the past and settle matters of life and death in the present. Each of the five main characters whose destinies collide in GRANITO are connected by the Guatemala of 1982, then engulfed in a war where a genocidal “scorched earth” campaign by the military exterminated nearly 200,000 Maya people. Now, as if a watchful Maya god were weaving back together threads of a story unraveled by the passage of time, forgotten by most, our characters become integral to the overarching narrative of wrongs done and justice sought that they have pieced together, each adding their granito, their tiny grain of sand, to the epic tale.

The cast includes 1992 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rigobert Menchú. Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote, “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator… doesn’t simply relate history; it is also part of history.” Click on the website link here to watch the film trailer.