Posts Tagged ‘books about adoption’

Pictures from a service trip to Guatemala, part 2

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Before leaving the subject of my service trip to Guatemala, I’m posting a few more photos of places we went and people we met. The orphanages we visited are privately (not government) run and funded, mainly by donations from individuals and families. Our trip was led by adoptive mom Leceta Chisholm Guibault, founder of  “Service Trips to Guatemala with Leceta,” aka “Team Ceta” (top row, far left), and Sandra Hurst (top row, third from left), long-time staffer from sponsor Orphan Resources International (ORI).  Several folks have emailed me with questions about my experience. Here’s a sampling, with my answers:

What is a service trip and why did you choose to go on one?

A service trip can be specifically project-based, such as building a house or community center, setting up or working in a medical clinic, installing water filters or stoves, or teaching skills or languages. Over the years, I’ve seen countless teams of volunteers on my flights to Guatemala and I was curious about the phenemenon. I chose to join “Team Ceta” because I have long admired Leceta Guibault’s leadership in the international adoption community.

What did you do on your trip?

Each service trip is different, according to current need. On this sojourn, most of Team Ceta and ORI’s efforts centered on an orphanage, Misioneros del Camino, founded and run by the inspirational Leonor Portelo, a Cuban-born widow who has dedicated her life to helping the children of Guatemala since 1986. Team Ceta volunteers who possess skills in working with children with disabilities and/or speech therapy assisted in the neurological clinic. Others built and installed two bookshelves, and painted the exterior of the dining hall. One volunteer organized and led a Fun Run in which we all participated; others supervised crafts and photography projects. In addition, we hosted activities for the children at Rosa de Amor and My Special Treasure orphanages. There was no shortage of things to do.

Wasn’t it hard on the children for you to interact with them for only a brief time?

I speak a little bit of Spanish, which allowed me to chat with the kids at each of the orphanages we visited and ask their opinions. Perhaps they were only being polite, but every one of them said they liked having us there, that it was something different to do, someone else to talk to; that our conversations were interesting, about a world beyond the orphanage fence. I should emphasize that most volunteers, in general, do not interact with children to the same degree that Team Ceta did on this trip, but focus their efforts on building, painting, or delivering food or health services.

Guatemala can be a dangerous country. Did you feel safe?

Team Ceta and ORI assign volunteers to serve only in areas that are known to be safe for tourists, around Lake Atitlan and Antigua. We traveled by private shuttle or bus, with a bilingual guide.

How were the accommodations? What about the food?

We bunked two to a room in a lovely mission home used by Orphan Resources International called “My Father’s House.”  The food was fabulous. In fact, I think this was the first trip I’ve ever taken to Guatemala where I didn’t lose weight.

Would you go on another service trip?

Absolutely yes. The sooner the better! ~

 

Photo above, top from left: Leceta Chisholm Guibault, Alison Caissie, Sandra Hurst, Dianne Sharpe, Meghan Talbot, Stephanie Finney, Adele Griffith, Jessica O’Dwyer. Bottom row, from left: Robyn Caissie, Kahleah Guibault, Hilary Umbach, Marcia Harvey Talbot, Mary Bain Sebastian. Photograph courtesy Marcia Talbot Photography.

Photos below: Painting the dining hall, young friends, food delivery truck, two children, the new bookshelves, Fun Run, neurological clinic, more young friends, blue door. Dining hall photo courtesy of Adele Griffith. Photos of young friends, Fun Run, and blue door courtesy Mary Bain Sebastian Photography.

 

 

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“The Kid with a Bike” and “A Gate at the Stairs”

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Last week, I saw a new film, The Kid with a Bike, which I loved. Here’s what I wrote about it when I posted on my Facebook page:

A disturbing, powerful, and ultimately hopeful movie, about a boy abandoned by his dad (no mention of his mother; maybe there, but I didn’t catch it), living in a group home, who is eventually fostered by a single woman, a hairdresser, and preyed upon by a local tough. Addresses hard issues like attachment, loss, and parenting the hurt child. Watch the trailer and see it if you can. In French.

I recently finished Lorrie Moore’s book, A Gate at the Stairs (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009 and Vintage Contemporaries, 2010)The New York Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune, among many other publications, named A Gate at the Stairs one of the ”Best Books of the Year.” Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review.


However, according to reviews posted on Amazon, readers’ reactions vary widely, with about the same number of people giving the book five stars as gave it one. One of my friends, a voracious reader, hated the book, or more specifically, hated the depiction of one of the main characters, Sarah Brink. (Sarah, like author Lorrie Moore, is an adoptive mother.) I must confess that at first I didn’t much like Sarah, either–her character seemed brittle, aloof, and self-centered–but by the end of the book, I understood her, and with understanding came deep admiration and empathy. A few weeks later, Sarah Brink still haunts me, which is why I’m recommending the book now. But be warned, A Gate at the Stairs is not a particularly fun or easy read.

My goal for 2012 is to read more books. If I find any other great ones that feature adoption themes, I’ll let you know.

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Four moms

Friday, October 14th, 2011

One of the questions I get asked most often when I talk about my book, Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, is “How did your daughter, Olivia, respond to meeting her birth mother?” For many parents who adopted children internationally, a birth mother-and-child relationship is uncharted territory. No one knows what to expect.

Each reunion experience is different. What is true for us may not be true for you; what is true for us today may not be true for us tomorrow, or next year. Our relationship with Olivia’s birth mother continues to evolve. The over-arching element is love. And relief. Relief for “Ana,” knowing the baby she gave up is a growing, nine-year-old girl, healthy and happy and loved. Relief for me, knowing that Ana placed Olivia for adoption—not without sorrow and loss—but with free will. For Ana, adoption to a family in the United States was the best choice.

To connect with Ana, I hired a professional “searcher,” a Guatemalan woman I found through an online adoption group to which I belong. The searcher approached Ana with discretion, under the guise of delivering an express mail envelope. Afterward, the searcher gave us photos and a detailed report outlining Ana’s reaction to hearing from the couple in California who adopted her baby—a welcomed and unexpected surprise—as well as a description of Ana’s current living situation.

In addition, the searcher facilitated our initial meeting in Guatemala, which I recommend. Reunions between birth and adoptive families can be awkward for everyone. Our relationship with Ana now feels secure enough that I navigate the logistics myself. Like most people in Guatemala, Ana owns a cellphone. She does not, however, own a computer; her home lacks electricity. I call from the U.S. to arrange our meeting time and place.

Language remains a challenge: Ana is an indigenous Maya K’iche widow, who lives with her two older teen children, “Luis” and “Dulce,” and her own mother, Abuela, in a highland town north of Lake Atitlan. Ana’s s first language is K’iche, with some Spanish. Luis and Dulce are bilingual K’iche and Spanish, while Abuela speaks only K’iche. My Spanish is rudimentary at best, and Olivia’s skill is developing.

We hug a lot. We gesture. We hold hands. A very effective way to communicate is via sketch pads. Like Olivia, her birth mother and half-siblings draw very well. Everyone depicts scenes from their lives, and passes them around. Favorite subjects for our Guatemalan family include birds, and trees, and the facades and interiors of churches. Luis and Dulce call me their “American mom.” Ana refers to me as “little mommy.”

Since our first reunion in 2008, we visit Olivia’s birth family at least once a year, sometimes twice. To protect Ana’s privacy, we meet in a relatively large town on Lake Atitlan, instead of her small village. Someday, we hope to visit Ana’s home, but we will wait for Ana’s invitation, and respect her timetable. Relinquishing a child is often viewed with shame in Guatemala, and we wouldn’t want to compromise Ana’s safety or reputation by making ourselves visible in her community.

Meeting Olivia’s birth mother has answered many questions for Olivia. From visiting Guatemala, Olivia has witnessed firsthand the hardships faced by many in the country, especially poor indigenous women. At the same time, she has sat on her birth mother’s lap and felt her mother’s embrace. She knows that she is loved. Even from a distance, Ana feels like a real and familiar part of our family. “Your beautiful smile is just like Ana’s,” I tell Olivia. “You’re both artists.”

This past Saturday at home in California, I drove the minivan into our garage with Olivia and her brother, Mateo, in the back seat. Seemingly out of nowhere, Olivia piped up and said, “I have four moms.”

I put the car in in park and turned off the engine. “Do tell, Olivia.”

“I have you, Mom, and Mama Ana. And I have Mateo’s birth mom, because he’s my brother so she’s my mother, too. And I have Mary, the mother of God.” (We’re Catholic.)

“Four moms,” I said, “and we all love you.”

Reaching over the back seat, I squeezed my daughter’s hand.

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Mamalita Book Tour

Friday, April 29th, 2011

With everything else going on around here–school, family, life–I almost forgot that I have a few upcoming stops on my Mamalita Book Tour.  I’ll be reading at the great Northern California independent bookstore, Copperfield’s, twice. Once, on Sunday, May 22 at 2 p.m. in Petaluma, with other contributors to the West Marin Review. And again on Sunday, June 5, alone, at 1 p.m., at the Montgomery Village location in Santa Rosa.

In late June, our family will attend Colorado Heritage Camp in the Rocky Mountains, where Mamalita is this year’s Latin American Heritage Camp book club selection. The discussion is scheduled for Friday evening, June 24.

After that, I fly to Iowa to read at the legendary Prairie Lights Books on Tuesday, June 28, at 7 p.m. (Yes, that Prairie Lights Books. Yowza!) My dear friend, Gretchen B. Wright, another adoptive mom and writer, lives in Iowa and will be hosting me.  You can read Gretchen’s gorgeous essay about her now-grown son, “Look at Him Now” in the May 2011 issue of  Adoptive Families magazine. It’s one of the best pieces written about adoption that I’ve ever read, anywhere.

On Tuesday, July 5 at 6:30 p.m., I’ll read at the Clairemont Branch of the San Diego Public Library. The San Diego Library system has been incredibly supportive of Mamalita, and I’m very grateful.

From Thursday, August 4 to Sunday, August 7, our family will attend MOGUATE, in the Ozarks of Missouri. The camp is described as “A gathering of families blessed with children from Guatemala.” The kids are thrilled and I am, too. Mamalita will be the book club selection. What a bonus!

Finally, in August, I will return to the Squaw Valley Writers’ Workshop for the Published Alumni Series. I always say that the Squaw Workshop changed my writing life—I attended in 2006 and 2007. To be included in the Published Alumni Series is an honor beyond words. The panel discussion moderated by Andrew Tonkovich will be held in the Olympic Village on Tuesday, August 9 at 3 p.m. The readings start at 5:30 p.m.

Details below. Hope to see you soon~

Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 2 p.m.
Copperfield’s Books Petaluma
140 Kentucky Street
Petaluma, CA 94952
707-762-0563

Reading with other contributors to the West Marin Review.

Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 1 p.m.
Copperfield’s Books Montgomery Village
2316 Montgomery Drive
Santa Rosa 95404
707-578-8930

Friday, June 24, 2011
Colorado Heritage Camp
Latin American Heritage Camp
book club selection
Snow Mountain Ranch, Fraser, Colorado

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 7 p.m.
Prairie Lights Books
15 South Dubuque Street
Iowa City, IA 52240
319-337-2681

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 6:30 p.m.
Clairemont Branch Library-San Diego Public Library
2920 Burgener Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92110
858-581-9935

Thursday, August 4 through Sunday, August 7, 2011
MOGUATE
In the Ozark Mountains, Missouri

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Community of Writers at Squaw Valley
Published Alumni Readings
Olympic Valley, CA 96146
530-583-5200
Reading with fellow Squaw Workshop alumni. Panel discussion moderated by Andrew Tonkovich at 3 p.m.

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