Mateo’s Confirmation

March 5th, 2019

On Saturday, Mateo received his Confirmation. For his Confirmation name, he chose “Miguel” (as in the Archangel), and for his sponsor, Olivia.

I’m proud of my son for reaching this milestone, and of his sister for guiding him through his faith journey.

Like siblings everywhere, my kids fight. But when it matters, they stand up for each other, and have from the beginning.

Here they are at Confirmation, and meeting for the first time in the lobby of the Guatemala City Marriott (now Barcelo), when Mateo was six months old and Olivia three.

Not only blood makes a family.








Shoplifters the movie

March 1st, 2019

I saw the Japanese film, Shoplifters, a few weeks ago and am still thinking about it. The theme is adoption, or at least families together who are not biologically related.  Loosely, it’s about a man who teaches his son what he knows, which is shoplifting. It’s also about a man and the woman he loves and the children they love, and how they become a family. To tell you more would reveal too much because the film is full of surprises.

I love that Shoplifters was made in Japan, by a filmmaker who is male. The reason I love these things is because they prove issues of adoption are universally felt, and by people who are not only female.

(This should be obvious, but isn’t, always.)

Written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, Shoplifters won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The performances are across-the-board masterful, with Sakura Ando’s portrayal of the mother particularly breathtaking. The film is rated R. My kids haven’t seen it.

Shoplifters is provocative, moving, quiet, and powerful. It’s well worth watching.






Monet at the museum

February 21st, 2019

No school for Mateo on Tuesday, so we went to the de Young Museum to see Monet: The Late Years. The paintings are gorgeous, expressive, breathtaking. To stand in those galleries among them was to feel embraced by beauty. The exhibition will be on view through May 27.

Monet painted the works when in his 70s and 80s, living with his family in Giverny, France, World War I raging all around them. I’m curious to read Ross King’s book about Monet’s Giverny years, Mad Enchantment. I was also heartened and encouraged to learn some of Monet’s canvases took a decade to complete. (I say this as someone who has been hammering away at a novel for a very long time.)

One of my goals this year is to go to museums more often, and so far, I have. Already, I’ve seen the Vija Celmins exhibition at SFMOMA, and the Gauguin and Monet at the de Young.

How do I convince my 14-year-old son to accompany me without too much complaint? Bring a friend. Spring for the Audio Tour. Eat lunch at the Café. Buy a puzzle at the Gift Shop. (Edward Hopper: Portrait of Orleans.)

Plus, I’m lucky. Mateo really likes art.

photo credit: De Young Museum





The Guatemalan fire trials begin

February 14th, 2019

Today the New York Times remembers the horrific fire at Guatemala’s state-run group home, known as the Virgin de Asuncion Hogar Seguro, in “A Locked Door, a Fire, and 41 Girls Killed as Police Stood By.” (Ironically, the word “Seguro” translates as “safe.”) Fifty-six girls were locked in a room when fire broke out. Forty-one girls died while police stood outside the door for nine long minutes and failed to unlock it.

Trials have begun for officials held accountable. Can justice really be served? The girls are dead. It’s doubtful anything will change.

Here is the excerpt that will haunt me:

The deaths are a reflection of the cruel passage to adulthood for many young girls in Guatemala, a journey often marked by poverty, violence and desperation. The nation has one of the highest child pregnancy rates, and the homicide rate for women is among the worst in the world.

“To be a girl in Guatemala is a risk, it’s been this way for generations,” said Marwin Bautista, an under secretary in the Ministry of Social Welfare who oversees the group homes.

I posted previously about the fire, here, here, here, and here.

“Tragic” can’t begin to describe the fire and, undoubtedly, the reality of the girls’ lives before the fire. Sadness, outrage, despair. No word suffices.

Photo credit: NY Times, Daniele Volpe





Roma film

February 13th, 2019

I watched the movie, “Roma,” nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress. The film is set in Mexico, but I kept seeing Guatemala. “Roma” tells the story of an indigenous woman who works as a housekeeper for a middle-class family, and every detail in it felt real, tender, sad, and true. Two friends strongly disliked the movie, but I left the theater devastated and stunned (that’s a good thing), almost as if I’d lived the experience myself.

Here’s the link to the NY Times review and an interview with Yalitza Aparacio, in which she speaks of being discriminated against in Mexico as a person who is indigenous.

Photo: Claudia Lucia, The Hollywood Reporter



Three Identical Strangers documentary

February 9th, 2019

Mateo and I watched the 2018 documentary, “Three Identical Strangers,” last night. (Yes, the film finally came on DVD to our local library, because, as Mateo claims, we’re the only family in the country who doesn’t have Netflix.)

Wow. If you haven’t yet seen it, you must.

You probably know the rough outline—three identical triplets separated at birth, adopted to families in the greater New York area by the Louise Wise adoption agency. They find one another through pure chance at age 19, when two of the boys attend the same college and everybody calls one by his brother’s name.

I hesitate to say more, because the movie is full of surprises. Just when you think “Unbelievable!,” something more outrageous happens.

One small observation: The film focuses, rightfully and effectively, on the profound repercussions of being separated at birth. The practice is wrong, period. The boys continue to pay a heavy price. What the film overlooks is the repercussion felt by any and every child who is placed for adoption, the answer to the question, “Why did she give me up?”

The boys’ relationship with their birth mother is mentioned only once, in a short scene, when the brothers describe finding her name in New York Public Library records and meeting for a drink. Their mother was a high school student when she got pregnant, and for reasons not explained—Social pressure of the times? College looming on the horizon? Lack of family support to care for three babies?—she placed the boys for adoption.

I kept wanting the boys or their parents, spouses, extended family, or the psychologists involved in the boys’ case—many people are interviewed—to at least acknowledge this first, deep, primary loss. But everyone is so focused on the horror of the triplets’ separation that the core “hard thing” of adoption—being separated from your mother—isn’t even named. It’s completely overlooked. And, no matter what the circumstance or reason why, and no matter how loving and supportive an adoptive family is, being separated from your mother is a loss that never goes away.

Still, “Three Identical Strangers” is a provocative, engaging, important documentary. Mateo and I recommend it.



Questions of identity

February 6th, 2019

There’s a trope in writing that the part of the story we read, the part we write, is only the tip of a gigantic iceberg. So much is happening below the surface. So much is unsaid, underneath. Isn’t the same true of our children? They may not talk about struggles with racial identity–about who they are and how they fit into their worlds–but that doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it.

The older my children get, and the more they walk in the world without me, the larger identity looms in their lives. My job is to acknowledge their challenges in navigating complicated identities, to encourage conversation about those challenges, and to listen.

In this video produced by Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families, Sam Severn, a young man born in South Korea and adopted to the United States, offers powerful and profound insights into his identity journey. He got me at the first lines: “The worst transition of my life occurred between middle school and high school… I saw myself as what I saw: white.”

The video is a great reminder of what may be going on in the minds of our kids, especially those who are of color and growing up in white families. It’s worth watching.




February 3rd, 2019

DNA kits are affordable and easy. Millions of people are taking tests and discovering blood relatives may not be who they were led to believe. We in the adoption community have dealt with family complexity for years, but for many people, the information comes as a shock.

In this Wall Street Journal article by Amy Dockser Marcus, a DNA counselor says, “I have become of the mind-set it is not a matter of if the secrets will come out…It is a matter of when the secrets will come out.”

After meeting her 90-year-old biological father, a woman says, “Every child has the right to know her origins. We missed 65 years together.”

I keep these observations in mind as an adoptive parent.

Finally: At least three families in my adoption circle have found biological siblings and cousins of their children, through DNA kits; the sibs and cousins were also adopted to the United States. The discovery has been amazing for these families: a miracle.



Adam Crapser update

January 31st, 2019

A refresher for anyone who has been following the saga of Adam Crapser, the man born in South Korea some 40 years ago, adopted at age 3 through Holt Children’s Services to one American family and later placed with a second, the Crapsers:

The situation with the Crapsers was perilous: “In 1991, the couple was arrested on charges of physical child abuse, sexual abuse and rape. They were reportedly convicted in 1992 on multiple counts of criminal mistreatment and assault.”

Adam Crapser was kicked out of the Crapsers’ house, and later convicted of breaking and entering to recover (“steal”) a Korean-language Bible and stuffed dog that had come with him from the orphanage. (Objects that were emotional touchstones for Adam and any child in a similar situation. Sacred to him!)

Later, Adam was convicted of assault and unlawful possession of a firearm. A green card application triggered a background check, when it was discovered Adam lacked US citizenship. No one in the adoption chain–Holt or either set of adoptive parents–had secured for him a Certificate of Citizenship.

Adam was deported to South Korea, where he doesn’t speak the language, and is separated from his American wife and 3 children. He was reunited with his birthmother, but (quote): “…he also expressed frustration over what he sees as a social stigma against adoptees here.”

Crapser is now suing the government of South Korea and Holt. He deserves to win. So many people let this man down.

Finally: Certificate of Citizenship. I’ve posted about it many times. Securing a Certificate of Citizenship is one of our non-negotiable responsibilities as adoptive parents. I know we all know this. But in case someone else needs a nudge.

AP photo by Ahn Young-joon



MFA and Finish

January 30th, 2019

My word for 2018 was “Finish.” Finish the MFA degree and finish a decent draft of the manuscript for my first novel. Friends, I’m happy to report I did both. Here’s me with Olivia on graduation day, in my cap and gown, and giving my final reading in the Antioch library. I read the opening scene of my novel-in-progress, which seemed to provoke a strong reaction.

My word for 2019 is still to be decided.

Happy New Year! (no longer so new.)