Posts Tagged ‘Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir’

A summer day at Winter Park

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

That’s Winter Park, Colorado, a few miles down the road from Latin American Heritage Camp, where we are headed for our fourth year of family camp for adoptive families.

The “assay station” made a big impression. Panning for gold makes more sense after you’ve screened for your own gems. Olivia and Mateo also conquered the Alpine slide, bungee jump, zip line, miniature golf, rock wall, and the maze. Last night, the best night’s sleep ever.

In the photo above, Olivia has scaled the climbing wall, and is ringing the bell to signify her victory. Not seen in the frame is me, on a bench, white-knuckling the camera and holding my breath.


Summer Vacation

Monday, June 20th, 2011

No lunches to make, no bus to run for, no shoes to find, no  totes to pack. The kids are sleeping late.

Yes, today is the first Monday of summer vacation.

Last night, Olivia and Mateo rode bikes and scooters until dark while Tim and I shot hoops–as in basketball. When’s the last time we did that?

This week, we head for Colorado and Heritage Camp, where Mamalita is the book club selection–available on Kindle and Nook for easy downloading–and then I go to the fabulous Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City to read on Tuesday, June 28 at 7 p.m. My friend, Gretchen B. Wright, will meet me there–Gretchen and I met at a writing workshop at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala–as will other friends through adoption.

But first, a few photos. The playground at Mateo’s school, alive with students and teachers dancing to the Slumdog Millionaire anthem, Jai Ho. Olivia and Mateo presenting Tim with his Father’s Day gift, a miniature skateboard handmade by Mateo in a woodshop class, against a backdrop of their own design. And finally, Mateo drawing during his last day as a kindergartener.

Another year, gone.


Hera and the one who teaches grammar

Thursday, June 16th, 2011


We’re winding down the last week of school, and today, Olivia’s class presented a series of plays based on Greek myths. Above, Olivia is dressed as her role of queen of the gods, Hera. For the performance finale, each child presented her or his parent or caregiver with a yellow rose and a handwritten note. Below, with best-guess spelling intact, I’ve reprinted the text of Olivia’s note to me. I love how clear her voice sounds in this letter. I call my daughter an artist, but I may have to switch that to writer.

Dear Mom:

Thank you for all the things you have done for me and my classmates to make this year fun. Mom, you helped with writers work shop witch is so helpfull because my class learned from you correct puncuation.

I will love you forever and always.

Love, Olivia



17th Annual San Diego Book Awards names “Mamalita” Best Memoir

Monday, June 13th, 2011


The 17th Annual San Diego Book Awards named Mamalita “Best Memoir” in a ceremony on Saturday, June 12, 2011. Yay!

My sister, Adrienne, and her friend, Claudia, attended the event with me, and when the evening’s host announced my name, my sister screamed. (We O’Dwyers are an enthusiastic bunch.) My entire family is thrilled. In fact, as I write this, my mother is showing off my lovely trophy to her ”Needlework” volunteer group at Pomerado Hospital in Rancho Bernardo. Adrienne and my parents and everyone else in my family shared the Mamalita journey with me–not only the experience, but also the five years I spent afterward, writing about it.  How gratifying to share with them this recognition.

Thank you, everyone!


This week

Friday, June 10th, 2011

My husband has been in China on business for the past week; his trips always serve as a good reminder of how much he does around here.


Because Mateo had never walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, he and I did that. On a sunny day, the view takes your breath way, but even when clouds fill the sky, the jaunt is fun. Noisy though! Very. (more…)


Sunday Mamalita reading in Santa Rosa

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Please join me on Sunday at 1 p.m. to discuss my book, Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, at Copperfield’s Books Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa, California. At least one of my fellow “Antigua moms” will be there. If past readings are any indication, the conversation should be lively and memorable.

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

And while I have your attention… In case you  haven’t yet watched my book trailer on YouTube, please do. Kevin Burget of Wide Iris did a phenomenal job of  communicating the story. Here’s the link to Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir by Jessica O’Dwyer. (Feel free to watch often and forward to everyone you know~)

Now, onward to one of the action-packed days of the year: Olivia’s ballet class, dress rehearsal, and end-of-year dance recital.


Dig it, Daddy-o. Oh yeah.

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

This morning, my daughter Olivia ate her cereal clad in black leggings and a t-shirt, wearing a red beret. Snapping her fingers, she spurted the phrases “Oh yeah. Dig it. Groovy.” After a long pause, she uttered a single syllable: “Wow.”

To anyone who has spent a nanosecond on a college campus or in a bookstore, or even watching TV, Olivia’s behavior can indicate only one thing: Poetry Reading.

An hour later, to the strains of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, I and other parents of third graders streamed into the appropriately dimmed Multipurpose Room of Olivia’s school for the first annual “Writing Cafe.” One kept turning to look over one’s shoulder, expecting Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, or some other bearded “Beat” to walk in. At least a loose-limbed free spirit in bare feet and a leotard improvising a “Dance to Spring.”  Instead, we were treated to our own childen, who did their best to maintain an atmosphere of hushed coolness. The performers didn’t rush up to the microphone to read their stanzas and haiku. They sauntered.

As I listened, nodding my head in a way that would make any former English major proud, a powerful memory overtook me: I was in fifth or sixth grade, and the class had just received the latest issue of Scholastic magazine. (In those days, before Internet and laptops, IPads and Kindles, Scholastic magazine represented one of our few diversions from the serious tasks of grammar drills and sentence diagramming. We eagerly anticipated its arrival.) And in this particular issue was a poem by Haki Madhubuti, then known as Don Lee. The title was ”But He Was Cool, or: he even stopped for green lights.” To give you an example of the language, I’ll quote my favorite line: ”cool cool so cool him nick-named refrigerator.”

Talk about the world as you knew it turning upside down! After a reading repertoire limited to “Mother Goose,” “The Owl and the Pussycat,” and The Happy Hollisters series, I was electro-shocked by Madhubuti’s poem.  This morning, sitting in Olivia’s “Writing Cafe,” I wondered if any of the children on stage experienced the same jolt from reading words that I once did. I hoped so.

After the show, the parents and students retreated to the classrooms, where the kids presented their work from the past quarter. Olivia proudly showed me her illustrated short story, “Bubble the Humpback Whale.”  Artist that she is, Olivia continued to edit: Unhappy with one unfinished corner of the story cover’s background, she grabbed her yellow pencil to fix it.

As I watched my little girl, I realized That’s the life of the artist. Never satisfied.

You dig? Oh yeah.

PS: In 2007, I recorded a short piece for KQED-FM radio called  An Artist’s Life, about the struggles of a life dedicated to art.  If you have time, please give it a listen.


Good news for Guatemala900 Family; open birth certificate editorial; my reading in Santa Rosa

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

At last! A happy ending for one of the waiting families of the Guatemala900. After four long years, Kinsey Reyher joined her adoptive parents, Brittney and Danny Reyher, and brothers, Kainen and Gabriel, in Terre Haute, Indiana, the Brazil Times reported on May 31, 2011.

Brittney and Danny, along with some family members when they had time, made 14 trips to visit with Kinsey, appeared for two court hearings, struggled through a change in lawyers and went through eight different agency coordinators to try and finish the adoption process.

“There was delay after delay… So many people were out there praying for us. And we could feel the prayers. This process brought our whole family closer together.”

On June 17, 2009, Brittney and Danny and the other 402 waiting families waiting for their children to come home, along with their supporters, marched on Washington to bring about public awareness to the Guatemala 900.


While the Reyher family enjoys their lives together, Brittney and Danny stay in touch with the families still waiting for their children to come home from Guatemala.

“I would like people to know about the remaining 300 cases that are still in limbo in Guatemala,” Brittney said, adding there are at least two other families from Indiana who are waiting for their child to come home from Guatemala. “One family is from Farmersburg and the other Greencastle. We are all friends and a huge support to one another. Even though our adoption is complete, we won’t feel complete until all the children are with their forever families.”

May this be one of many cases soon to be resolved.

In another must-read article, my good friend and fellow adoptive mom Laura-Lynne Powell argues that open birth records benefit everyone–from mothers who place their children for adoption to children who deserve to see evidence of their biological roots. ”Adoptees shut out from birth records” was published in the Viewpoints section of The Sacramento Bee on Sunday, May 29, 2011. Here’s a short excerpt:

My own school-age sons were adopted in open adoptions and we continue to enjoy loving relationships with members of their first families. We visit and exchange gifts and letters. We’re all Facebook friends.

But neither of my sons have a legal right to see their birth certificates. It doesn’t matter that we already know the details of their births. Because we live in California, they can’t see the documents. I can’t see them. The women who gave birth to them can’t see them.

So my question is this: If Barack Obama’s birth certificate is so important, then why aren’t the birth certificates of all Americans – including those who happen to have been adopted – important as well? Why can’t we get past this outdated prejudice?
Read more:

Finally, I’ll be reading from Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir at Copperfield’s Books Montgomery Village, this Sunday at 1 p.m. At the moment, this is my last scheduled reading in the Bay Area. Please stop by and say hello~

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


“Finding Aster” by Dina McQueen

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Connecting with other adoptive parents ranks as my favorite outcome from writing Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir. Instantly, we launch into our stories, using a shorthand we each understand.

So it happened last January, when I read from Mamalita at Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In the audience sat Dina McQueen, adoptive mom to a daughter named Aster, born in Ethiopia. As we chatted I learned Dina also had authored a book about her journey to motherhood. Finding Aster: an Ethiopian adoption story was published in February by Inkwater Press.  Naturally, I bought a copy, and quickly read the compelling tale. True, I knew the book’s ending, but still, I found it hard to put down.

Since then, Dina and I have discovered we share a deep commitment to adoption, and to writing and thinking about adoption. In addition, we both love reading to our children.  In a recent blog post, Dina compiled a list of her favorite Children’s Books for Multi-Ethnic Families; from it, I gleaned a few new titles I didn’t know about, which I plan to add to our family library.  Check out Dina’s list and Dina’s book, too. You’ll enjoy both.


Semana Santa in Antigua

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

One of these years, I hope to spend Semana Santa, also known as Holy Week, the days leading up to Easter Sunday, in Antigua. Everyone says it’s fabulous. Well, that’s not exactly true. A friend from Guatemala who grew up in Antigua says it’s his least favorite holiday–”Too many tourists”–and a woman I met in Boston on my book tour said her pocket was picked–not once, but three different times.

Nevertheless, I’d still like to go. Last summer at Latin American Heritage Camp in Colorado, Cynthia Rothwell gave a fascinating presentation on Holy Week as it’s celebrated throughout Guatemala. Participants like me were able to create our own miniature alfombras, or carpets, using stencils and piles of sawdust that had been dyed, and which Cynthia carried in her checked luggage, all the way from Guatemala. The hardest part was “erasing” the rug after creating it. Imagine how the Guatemalan artists feel when their hours of handiwork are finally trampled by a thousand passing feet.

Holy Week in Antigua Guatemala, posted by “chezi” on TravelBlog in 2009, gives a wonderful overview of the tradition. In the April 2011 edition of Guatemala’s English language Revue Magazine, Antigua historian Elizabeth Bell offers her helpful tips for getting the most of the carpet-viewing experience. My two favorite Elizabeth tips:

  • Processions usually take about 12 hours. Depending on the time of day or night, I locate a good corner and get on the right-hand side of the Christ figure. The sculpture is best appreciated when He looks at you. All Christ figures (except in the children’s procession from the cathedral) look to the right-hand side. Corners are great so I can see the carriers (men called cucuruchos and women called cargadoras) change turns with precision. It usually takes a full hour to see the entire procession go by and then, instead of trying the beat the crowds, I can easily walk away from the procession. 
  • Do not take anything of value to velaciones or processions. Pickpockets work the crowds seamlessly. No passports. No credit cards. I usually put a camera around my neck and pack a few quetzales and then go back to my home or hotel afterward when I decide to go out again for a meal.
  • Finally, for gorgeous procession photos check out the website AntiguaDailyPhoto. The site is a great resource for stunning visuals any time of year, but especially during Semana Santa. Looking at the photos I vow once again: Next year in Antigua during Holy Week. Definitely.