Archive for February, 2013

From California to Guatemala, shoes to Mayan Families

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

For this year’s service project, Olivia’s Girl Scout troop decided to collect gently used kids’ sneakers, soccer cleats, and shoes, as well as new school supplies, to donate to Mayan Families, an organization in Guatemala that serves mostly indigenous families in need who live in the Panajachel area around Lake Atitlan. Donating to Mayan Families was Olivia’s idea: in years past, we have carried down our own gently used items to give to Mayan Families, and Olivia has seen first-hand how appreciated the gifts are and how real the need. I’m proud of my daughter for lobbying to help an organization in her birth country, and thrilled and grateful that her fellow Scouts elected to sign on to the cause.

As it happened, Mateo, my sister Patrice and I were headed to Guatemala for a short visit, so we hauled the shoes ourselves. But for anyone else considering donating, check the Mayan Families website for information on which shipping companies to use, or how to join the Mayan Families Connection Yahoo group that sends large containers.

The photo above shows the shoes lined up in our dining room. Below are the suitcases which we carried from San Francisco to Antigua, and transported via shared shuttle bus to Panajachel. Once in Pana, and to Mateo’s delight, we took a tuk-tuk to Mayan Families headquarters; the driver and Mateo posed for a photo before handing over the suitcases to a Mayan Families staffer. Finally, co-director Sharon Smart arranged a photo shoot of the shoes and school supplies, and oversaw the making of the heart-shaped thank you note to Olivia’s Girl Scout leader and troop.

If your group is casting about for a service project, please consider collecting for the children served by Mayan Families. Find a list of desired supplies on the Mayan Families website. Truly, delivering shoes intended for kids who need them stands out as a highlight of our trip.

To everyone who donated, including our local Bay Area group of adoptive families, thank you, thank you! ~ xoxo




Guatemala, Guatemala. February 2013

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Last Saturday, Mateo, my sister Patrice, and I arrived in my favorite place on earth, Antigua, Guatemala. It’s insane how much I love Antigua—the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, the ring of volcanoes, the churches, the Square. We’ve been visiting Antigua since I fostered Olivia there in 2003, and every trip we discover something different. This time, we climbed Volcano Pacaya, an extraordinary adventure that deserves its own post, and will get one soon. We also spent two days at Lake Atitlan, my other favorite destination. Olivia’s Girl Scout troop collected some 75 pairs of gently used kids’ sneakers, soccer cleats, and shoes, which Mateo, Patrice, and I lugged down on the airplane, and hand-delivered to Mayan Families, an organization we support that serves indigenous families in the region. Pictures on that adventure to come, too.

This trip, we connected with three other adoptive families visiting Antigua, two with eight-year-old boys, and one with a younger girl. The girl’s family I had met virtually, through our mutual membership on an adoption listserve; I know the boys’ families through our local adoption group. I mention this as another benefit of forming adoption networks—when you visit Guatemala, you can meet up with friends. Mateo loved sharing meals and fun with all three kids. And let me tell you, for an active, eight-year-old boy, scaling Pacaya with two other active, eight-year-old boys qualifies as downright awesome.

The fabulous Nancy Hoffman, who has lived in Guatemala for more than a decade and is known to most of you reading this as the founder of, helped us with arrangements. If you’re planning to visit, contact her at and she’ll set you up.

The Saturday before we left, we visited friends who live in one of the small villages surrounding Antigua. After a lovely afternoon, on the way back to town, we passed local residents creating alfombras (carpets made of sawdust and various materials) outside their homes and businesses for the village’s Lenten procession later that night. The artists kindly indulged us by letting me take pictures while Mateo inspected their handiwork, delighted to take part in the local tradition.

Our trip consisted of dozens of such small, unexpected moments, which already have entered the realm of treasured memories. To me, those treasured memories are what give life meaning. I feel lucky to share them with my son Mateo, in his beautiful birth country of Guatemala.


Heritage Camp registration opened today

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Hi Friends:

If you’re thinking of attending Heritage Camp for Adoptive Families in Colorado this June, register soon. The deadline is sometime in April, but the camp fills up fast.

We’ve attended four times, and have loved every minute. As I’ve written before, the camp provides a very specific experience—that of being a child of color, from a different country, adopted to parents who often don’t look like you, among other children and families who share that specific experience. It’s not the same as visiting one’s home country—which Mateo and I are doing now—but in its way, is equally valid. Everyone I know who has attended raves about the camp, and plans to go back. That’s why I urge you to sign up today. ~

Here’s the link.




In Guatemala

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I apologize for suddenly droppping out of sight. For the past week, I’ve been in Guatemala with Mateo and my sister, Patrice. If you know any active eight-year-old boys, you know why I haven’t written. Mateo always keeps me running, and being in Guatemala hasn’t slowed him down.

We’re lucky to be here during Lent, the days leading up to Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Every Sunday during this season, a neighboring town hosts a religious procession through the streets of Antigua. Last Sunday, the procession started in Santa Catarina. Here are a few photos.

The crowds. The pageantry. I find it all very moving.

More later! ~


It’s here! The documentary “Stuck”

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

The long-awaited documentary Stuck, produced by adoptive dad and Both Ends Burning founder Craig Juntunen, is now in theaters across the US in limited screenings. Previously, I wrote about Stuck and Craig Juntunen here and here.

What I love about the movie is that Craig put faces and personal stories to the abtract idea of “children without families, somewhere out there in the world.” I thought I couldn’t cry anymore about adoption, but after watching the film trailer, I know now that I can.

In previous posts, I’ve lamented the lack of leadership in international adoption, and how, among our elected officials, no one seems to be leading the charge. May I please amend that statement? Senator Mary Landrieu advocates for adoption non-stop. She is everywhere, all the time. Certainly in Craig’s film,  but also Skyped into a broadcast I watched recently on Guatemala television, lobbying in Congress, at conferences, and on the ground in countries where adoptive parents continue to wait for their cases to untangle from miles of red tape while their hoped-for children grow up without them. I’m sure I speak for thousands of others when I say “Thank you, Senator Landrieu.”

Last summer, in the days leading toward the fifth anniversary of adoptions being closed in Guatemala, I was so demoralized thinking about the unresolved cases, and the future of the children who live in institutional care, that I despaired of ever seeing change being made. Craig Juntunen’s movie gives me  hope.

Please watch the trailer, share with friends, and check the film’s itinerary. Craig and his team are embarking on a cross-country bus tour, and seek volunteers to help promote the film along the way. Details are on the website.

Onward. ~


Book by Jeanette Winterson, “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?”

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Two recent posts focusing on essays by people who are adopted—On Being a Super Adoptee and Learning by Listening: What is Adoption Savior Syndrome?—got me remembering Jeanette Winterson’s outstanding memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Winterson was born in Manchester, England in 1959, and adopted soon after by a zealously religious and bigger-than-life mother she refers to as “Mrs. Winterson.” (There’s a Mr. Winterson, as well, but it’s the Mrs. who looms large.)  I first learned about Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? when the New York Times Book Review featured it on the front cover. Since then, the book has won several major literary awards and been featured on countless “Top Ten” lists.

I’ll be honest: for me as an adoptive parent, the book started as a tough read.  Here are the opening paragraphs: 

When my mother was angry with me, which was often, she said, ‘The Devil led us to the wrong crib.’

The image of Satan taking time off from the Cold War and McCarthyism to visit Manchester in 1960 – purpose of visit: to deceive Mrs Winterson – has a flamboyant theatricality to it. She was a flamboyant depressive; a woman who kept a revolver in the duster drawer, and the bullets in a tin of Pledge. A woman who stayed up all night baking cakes to avoid sleeping in the same bed as my father. A woman with a prolapse, a thyroid condition, an enlarged heart, an ulcerated leg that never healed, and two sets of false teeth – matt for everyday, and a pearlised set for ‘best’.

I do not know why she didn’t/couldn’t have children. I know that she adopted me because she wanted a friend (she had none), and because I was like a flare sent out into the world – a way of saying that she was here – a kind of X Marks the Spot.

She hated being a nobody, and like all children, adopted or not, I have had to live out some of her unlived life. We do that for our parents – we don’t really have any choice.

She was alive when my first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was published in 1985. It is semiautobiographical, in that it tells the story of a young girl adopted by Pentecostal parents. The girl is supposed to grow up and be a missionary. Instead she falls in love with a woman. Disaster. The girl leaves home, gets herself to Oxford University, returns home to find her mother has built a broadcast radio and is beaming out the Gospel to the heathen. The mother has a handle – she’s called ‘Kindly Light’.

I wondered “Is every adoptive parent wacky? Or only the ones we hear about?” But I kept reading, adhering to my mantra of What can I learn from this?. I’m so glad I did, because I learned a lot. While the book jacket says, ”This memoir is the chronicle of a life’s work to find happiness,” and most reviewers focused on the conflict between an identity-seeking Jeanette and the overbearing Mrs. Winterson, in fact, the story reveals volumes about the complexity of adoption, a theme evident perhaps only to those of us involved in the subject.

Without giving away too much, I’ll say that Jeanette searches for and finds her biological mother, Ann. Afterwards, she makes an observation that strikes me as utterly profound, among her many profound observations:

I think she would like me to let her be my mother. I think she would like me to be in touch regularly. But whatever adoption is, it isn’t an instant family—not with the adoptive parents, and not with the rediscovered parents.

Again, not an easy read (for me, anyway), but a worthwhile one. Gorgeously written, too.


On being a “super adoptee”

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

My friend, Cindy Swatek, founder of Moguate and the Affording Adoption Foundation (about which I’ve written here and here), shared this very interesting essay by Michelle Li, What’s Stopping You from Being Super?: Ramblings from a “super adoptee,” posted by the large and established adoption agency, Holt International.  What I love about Li’s piece is its boldness and candor, evidenced from the first paragraph:

Parents may be surprised to hear how some adoptees talk about one another. My friends categorize us as either angry adoptees or super adoptees. It’s certainly not scientific, and it’s definitely not absolute. In fact, it’s just an opinion. However, it could lead people to a good discussion.

Right there, Li tells us she cares about this subject, and through her forthright approach, convinces us we should, too. Li continues:

I didn’t come up with the term super adoptee; it found me on a balmy summer day in Korea in 2005.

I remember sitting on the balcony of a hotel in Gyeongju with a Korean adoptee I had met just days before. We were participants of a birthland tour and thrown together because of our age. As young professionals, it seemed like a good pairing.

My new roommate’s name was Mary… Mary had a life anyone would envy. She was gorgeous, graceful and carried gravitas. It was hard to believe we were the same age. After attending NYU, she moved to Tel Aviv to live an eclectic, intellectual life with her boyfriend. She appeared extremely confident, and I remember even feeling a twinge of jealousy because she seemed so put together.

But sitting on that balcony that day made me realize Mary was envious of me.

“You’re so lucky you know your birth family,” said Mary.

“Why do you think that?” I asked…

“You just seem like you’ve found closure,” Mary said.

I knew where this conversation was headed. I had been on the receiving end of this talk before. The most unpleasant experience happened in 1998 when a fresh-faced Korean social worker went rogue and contacted my birth mother without my knowledge. If it hadn’t been for her, I would not have this “closure” Mary assumed I had. When I reunited with my birth family, it not only opened a new can of worms but also put me on the defensive with some angry adoptees who thought I sold out.

“You just make me feel so far behind,” Mary continued. “You’ve gone to Korea camps,  you know things about Korea. You even know the language. I know nothing, and I’m so overwhelmed.”

“You’re not behind–”

“You’re like this super adoptee!” she interrupted.

And there it was. Though I had talked with adoptees about this before, Mary was the first person to call it like that. Super? It didn’t sound like a compliment. And, it’s not like I had been trying to be anything in the years leading up to that moment.

Also wonderful about Li’s essay is that it addresses her reunion with her birth family. As a writer, I often long to write in detail about the relationships our family has with our children’s birth parents. As an adoptive mother, I respect that the details of those stories are not mine to tell. Thus, for now, I write in generalities. But as an adult adoptee, Michelle Li can talk about her experience with specificity, and she does:

“If you think finding closure happens when you meet your birth family, you’re wrong,” I said [to Mary] reassuringly. “In fact, sometimes it complicates things and can even be more confusing.” I went on to tell her about my failed attempts to get medical records or learn much about my family history. To this day, I still don’t know my exact birthplace. If you know anything about Korean people, you know they’re pretty good at avoiding awkward conversations. It’s just the culture, I suppose.

I told Mary how my Korean family lovingly added extra Korean pressures on me – whether it was to lose weight, send them money, or date a Korean boy. They even wanted me to get rid of the mole on my face because they thought it was ugly. Something else to learn about Korean people – they’re proud of you, they just don’t say it. And, they never beat around the bush.

Even after our reunion, it took a couple years for my Korean family to even tell their extended family about me. They were too ashamed to tell everyone right away. I understood, but at the same time, it sort of felt like another rejection.


As I told my story to Mary, I could see a lightbulb go off in her expression.

“Wow,” she said. “I had no idea how hard it would be for someone like you, too.”

I told her then, that sometimes I thought it would’ve been easier to not know anything.


Personally, “closure” is a word I like to avoid when it comes to adoption stories. I don’t feel like we ever really get it because our stories never end. We feel differently about it as we reach a new milestone. Yet, for me, post adoption services, like camps and support groups help me navigate my feelings and give added confidence. 

Michelle Li’s perspective is not the “only” perspective on this topic, but it’s a considered and insightful one.  I appreciate her allowing this reader to look into the mind of at least one person who is adopted, and to see how she thinks.


Wall Street Journal on “Cheating the Orphans”

Monday, February 4th, 2013

There’s nothing technically “new” in this clip about Guatemalan adoption, “Cheating the Ophans,” posted by the Wall Street Journal, except for the fact that the Wall Street Journal believes the state of adoption in Guatemala—closed since December 2007, some 100+ cases unresolved, with no signs of reopening—deserves to be recognized. As far as I’m concerned, that’s new enough, and great news, building on a recent spate of articles that question the wide-scale closure of adoption programs with no exit strategy or “Plan B” in place.

First, in December, a front-page article about the Guatemala 900 in the New York Times, then protests in Russia by Russian citizens who disagree with Putin’s decision to stop adoptions to the US, followed by a story about the Krygrz 65 in Time magazine, and now, an editorial and news clip by the Wall Street Journal. Maybe this critical mass of media coverage will lead to meaningful reform and the reopening of programs long closed. 

In the clip where she is shown discussing the situation in Guatemala, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, “The Americas” columnist for the WSJ, registers the incredulity common to people who operate in a world of logic and sense: She cites the “high number” of children living in orphanages, at the same time that ”loving homes” await them. Why is this allowed to happen? O’Grady wants to know. She states that the waiting families of the Guatemala 900 are emblematic of a broader problem: “You have children who the mother can’t take of, and parents–plenty of them–who want them… The net effect is that these children are basically institutionalized. I think that is a crime.”

Ms. Grady, so do a lot of other people.

In the video clip, which I urge you to watch, O’Grady touches on the subject of the State Department, giving the bureaucracy props for trying, while noting that its pace is “glacial.” She also observes that children with special needs are “especially harmed” by adoption closures because many US adoptive parents, unlike adoptive parents elsewhere, will specifically adopt children with special needs. (To which I would add my observation and experience that every child who has been institutionalized or in foster care has ”special needs,” although that is a subject too complicated to address here.)

Finally, O’Grady comments on a “horrible prejudice… that a child born in Guatemala can’t grow up in New Jersey.” I loved hearing her say a “horrible prejudice,” because of course that particular argument is used over and over again by people who are anti-international adoption.

Watching this clip reminds me that many people who don’t “live” in the world of international adoption view adoption as a loving, permanent, and straightforward solution that makes sense. What they don’t understand is why, in this great big world of ours filled with smart people, nobody can seem to devise a way to make it work.

 Me, either.



On surrogacy and adoption, and the Superbowl

Friday, February 1st, 2013

For a long time, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between adoption and other methods of forming a family that don’t involve the tried-and-true “become pregnant and deliver a baby” scenario—embryo transfer, artificial insemination, gestational surrogacy. From my personal experience, people who wish to become parents will find a way, regardless of the obstacles. More power to them!

Because of my long-standing interest in this subject, I was happy to read Bundle of Joy: The Costs of Adoption vs. Surrogacy in Fox Business News. Third-party reproduction and adoption are usually viewed as separate subjects, but in fact, they represent different points on a wide spectrum. My only quibble with the article is the ease with which the writer claims one can adopt from foster care. As many veterans of the system agree, foster-adopt can be a long and convoluted procedure. One friend, an adoptive mother to a daughter from Guatemala who is trying to foster-adopt in California, said the California system made Guatemala’s look straightforward. Not that this should dissuade anyone.

If you’re interested, check out Creating a Family’s recent post, It’s Complicated; It’s Uncomfortable; It’s Doable; It’s Important–Talking With Older Kids About Donor Egg, Sperm, or Embryo. As usual, this blog offers many helpful suggestions and links.

Finally, it’s Superbowl weekend and I may be the only person in the San Francisco Bay Area who doesn’t plan to watch the game. I don’t even know the rules to football! My high school had basketball and soccer teams, and although I was a cheerleader (yes, really), and am familiar with the full-court press, I never got around to learning about first downs, flags on the field, and whatever else one is supposed to have absorbed as a US citizen. My husband will be watching, though, and for his sake I’ll say, “Go Niners!”