Posts Tagged ‘transracial adoption’

Road trip to Tikal, details

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

Everyone I know who visits Tikal flies via Guatemala City, but we decided to drive. On the way, we visited parts of Guatemala we’d read and heard about–Rio Dulce, Lake Izabel, and Livingston—and saw miles of near-desert and dense jungle vastly different from the familiar mountains and valleys of the country’s west and center.

Our group consisted of my children, fourteen-year-old Olivia, eleven-year-old Mateo, and I, along with good friends from our Bay Area adoption group, Michele S. and her ten-year-old daughter, Sofia. We hired a driver, Helmuth Leal, who owns the Antigua travel company, Caminos del Quetzal. Literally dozens of tour companies and shuttles run trips to Tikal. We chose Helmuth based on recommendations of others in our adoption community. The service he provided was terrific.

Guatemala is divided into twenty-two regions called departments, similar to our States, and enroute to Tikal we passed through nine of them: Solola, Sacatepequez, Chimaltenango, Guatemala, Progresso, Zacapa, Izabel, and Peten. Tkal is located in the middle of Peten, the largest and most northwestern department, bordering Mexico to the north and west and Belize to the East. The distance from Guatemala City is about three hundred thirty miles. We started our trip in Panajachel, which added another hundred.

The trip took six days, with two days dedicated to driving. The cost was about twice as much as the price of five people flying round trip from Guatemala City to Flores, Tikal’s nearest airport. Bear in mind, the price included hotels, transport, and Tikal Park admission.

Before leaving for Tikal, our families had spent a week at Lake Atitlan, and Helmuth picked us up there on Sunday at 6 AM. If I were to do it again, to save travel time, I would start in Antigua. Lesson learned. We stopped for breakfast at the restaurant Chichoy, between Lake Atitlan and Antigua, and snacked in the van until we arrived almost at Rio Dulce. I say almost, because it was while on the road that we learned the meaning of the word pinchazo—flat tire. The incident added to the adventure.

Once in Rio Dulce, we unloaded our luggage onto a riverboat and cruised over to the rustic and charming Hotel Catamaran. The cabins were simple and clean, with ceiling fans we grew to cherish—that part of the country is hot! and humid!–and no internet access. The no-internet theme was repeated for the rest of the week, and for the first time I could remember, I truly felt off the grid. (more…)

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Antigua nostalgia

Friday, July 31st, 2015

During my trip to Guatemala with Olivia this summer, I felt very nostalgic for our earliest days together, when I moved to Antigua and we lived in a small house to wait for her adoption paperwork to be finalized. We were first getting to know each other then, and many of those days weren’t easy.

I remembered the hours we passed playing at Antigua’s Mickey D’s, wandering through the markets, and admiring the artwork painted on the sides of local buses. I also remembered the care shown to Olivia by our dear Guatemalan friend Yoly, who babysat during the afternoon hours I studied Spanish.

As I watched Olivia navigate her life in Guatemala this June–confident, happy, independent–I thought, How far we have come. ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Antigua, Guatemala

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Dear Mateo:

Yesterday in Antigua, we met up with Deborah Feore and her two lovely and amazing daughters from our Bay Area adoption group. You’ve met them at our annual adoption party, remember? It was so much fun to re-experience Antigua through the eyes of the enthusiastic girls. They liked everything about this town!

We ate lunch at Cafe Sky, took a stroll through the Square looking for the famous vendor “Ruth”–(her son’s name is Mateo!)–bought woven tablecloths at Colibri, ate orange chocolate bread from Dona Luisa’s, and wandered through the municipal mercado, where Deb revealed herself to be as mad for plastic “canastas” as I am. Canastas are the word Guatemalans use for the plastic tote bags that I buy a lot of, many of which are stashed in the closet downstairs.

As we walked along the cobblestone streets, one of her daughters said “This feels like my second home.” Ahhhh. — That was nice to hear.

We miss you!

Love,

Mommy (and Olivia, too) xoxo

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Some thoughts on adoption

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

I strive to view adoption from multiple perspectives and sometimes focus too hard on the negative. And by that I mean the loss experienced by my children, the inequality that exists in the world, the basic unfairness of life. These issues haunt me.

I sometimes discuss adoption with a long-time friend, an adult who is adopted, and she sometimes ends our conversations with, “You need to get over your liberal guilt.” If you’re reading this blog, you probably understand what she means by this statement.

Recently I read this Huffington Post essay by adoptee, Madeleine Melcher, and while my first reaction was to think, “Too positive!,” I later reflected that the perspective of Madeleine Melcher is as valid as the perspective of anyone else. Madeleine Melcher also deserves to be listened to. This one line especially spoke to me: “Parents: There is no voice on or about adoption that is more important than YOUR ADOPTEE’S.”

And I took that to mean: I need to listen more to my own my children and their experience of adoption–and a little less to other, louder voices that sometimes drown my children’s voices out.

Today, to myself, I say: Yes, remain aware of adoption’s complexity. Yes, keep my eyes open. But don’t allow the negative things that I know and I’ve seen, prevent me from embracing the good stuff that’s right in front of me.

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Questions people ask

Monday, March 30th, 2015

A while back, a friend posted on my Facebook page a photo montage that had been going around, by adoptive mother and photographer Kim Kelley-Wagner, whose two daughters were born in China. The montage shows the girls holding white boards hand-printed with comments people have said to or about them over the years. Some included “They send their babies here so they can become spies when they get older” and “Your mom could have bought a nice car instead of adopting you.”

A few people expressed surprise when they saw the montage, asking if similar comments had been made to us. They have, although with less frequency than they used to. At this point—my kids are almost 13 and 10–we have our routines and schedules, our circles who know us. Comments occur–or maybe it’s curiosity?–when we go outside the circle. So, a new school for 10-year-old Mateo, a different kid in a class, a first-time activity or sport will provoke a fresh round of inquiries. Questions like. “Why didn’t your real mom want you?” Or “Is she your real mom?” The questions are not intended to hurt, but they affect my children on some deep level. We go through this periodically.

Another place this happens, perhaps not surprisingly, is Guatemala. (Where we visit often.) Always, we are subjected to many looks, some questions, and a degree of judgement. (Which is understandable, but still! Repercussions occur within my children.)

And I realize, again, that as the biological offspring of my two parents, I never experienced this. My belonging was never called into question, the way it is for my children.

Then today, out of nowhere, another example occurred. As we got out of the car, Mateo said, “You know that DVD I watched last week, ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’?” And I’m thinking, You mean the one released by Disney, rated PG, and based on a book written by the famously sensitive Judith Viorst?

I kept my tone neutral. “Yes?”

“One of the girl characters says to a boy character, ‘Are you sure you’re not adopted?’” Mateo emphasized the word ‘adopted’ with a sneer.  “She said adopted like he was bad because he was adopted. Because he wasn’t like anyone else in his family, so he was weird.“

I stayed quiet for a moment. “How did that make you feel?”

“Sad.” He sniffed, wiping his eyes with the edge of his shirt. “If you’re watching the movie and you’re not part of an adoptive family, you don’t care. But if you’re adopted, you get it.”

I pulled him close, reassuring Mateo that I understood, that as his mother through adoption, I got it, too.

I don’t know why I’m writing about this, except I want to remember this phase of my family’s life. We love one another. That’s a given. Which is not the same as saying that every day everything is easy and simple.   ~

(PS: At the bottom of the page, it says “Comments are closed.” I don’t know why.)

 

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Thoughts on “Gotcha Day”

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

For National Adoption Month, the Huffington Post is running a series of articles on the subject, written by different members of the triad. Here’s a link to a very thoughtful piece by a young woman adopted from China, about the implications of the term “Gotcha Day.” (We don’t use this phrase in our family, just so you know.) The third paragraph is quite profound. Here’s an excerpt:

“Gotcha Day is one of those times when we think about our past and how little some of us actually know about it. We think about our biological parents and wish we knew them and could ask them why they didn’t keep us. We think about what our lives would be like, where would we be, what our futures would look like, had there been no Gotcha Day.”

Gotcha Day Isn’t a Cause for Celebration by Sophie Johnson

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An short essay on race

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

I wrote a short essay, “A teaching moment on driving while brown,” that was published today in my local newspaper, the Marin Independent Journal. If you’re reading this, you may be able to relate. I’ve pasted the first few paragraphs here. To read the rest, click on the link.

Last Sunday evening, as I swept the kitchen floor and loaded the dishwasher, my 9-year-old son Mateo cavorted around the room, telling me about his day. My sister and her family were visiting from Boston, and we — my sister, her girls, my daughter, and I — had gone into San Francisco to shop while Mateo stayed home with my husband, to do, as my husband calls it, “guy stuff.”

After a report on fixing the drip irrigation system, Mateo regaled me with tales of their trip to the hardware store, where they bought lumber to build a rack in our basement, and stopped at the food truck to indulge their shared passion for giant hot dogs smothered in onions and ketchup.

“When Dad and I were driving home,” Mateo said, “we saw seven police cars parked on the side of the road, and a Latino man standing next to a shiny, fancy car with his wrists handcuffed behind his back. Dad said maybe the police thought the Latino man committed a crime.”

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On the Trip to Maine

Monday, December 16th, 2013

I’m thrilled because my essay, On the Trip to Maine, is featured in the Winter issue of Adoption Constellation, the quarterly publication of Adoption Mosaic, an organization based in Portland, Oregon. The publication is not online, so I’ve posted it here:

On the Trip to Maine

Olivia, Mateo and I are on the last leg of our all-day cross-country journey to my nephew’s wedding, to be held in a tiny coastal village in central Maine. The airplane is small, so the kids sit together in seats 9A and B, while I sit across the aisle in 9C. Because we’re in the brief, blessed lull that often happens close to the end of a long trip when they’re too exhausted to fight with each other, my face is buried in the book I’ve been trying to read for weeks, hoping I can progress beyond Chapter Three, which may be why I don’t notice the flight attendant until she appears beside my elbow, leaning into my kids.

“How old are you two?” she asks without any preamble. Olivia looks up in the way she has when she wants to be sure she’s answering correctly. “Eleven and eight?” She says it like it’s a question.

The flight attendant gives a thumbs-up. Whatever test she’s administering, Olivia has passed. “Big kids,” the woman says. She pushes off and scurries up the aisle, her fingertips running along the overhead bins, slamming one shut as she passes. Turning sharply when she reaches the cockpit, she begins the safety demonstration, showing the belt low and tight across your lap, and the way you should affix the oxygen mask to yourself before assisting others.

A few seconds later, she’s back addressing Olivia. “Can you show me your nearest exit?”

Olivia points to the front door. “There?” Her voice sounds uncertain.

“Exactly,” the flight attendant says. “How about you, young man. Can you show me?”

Mateo’s face brightens. Happy to be noticed, he aims a finger forward. “There.”

The flight attendant smoothes her hair back behind her ears. “Excellent.”

Then it dawns on me: She thinks they’re flying unescorted. She must have spotted my two brown-skinned children, looked around and seen a plane full of white people, and assumed they were flying alone. Sure enough, in the next breath, she asks, “Are you traveling with an adult?”

“My mom,” Olivia says.

The attendant takes a quick scan of the surrounding faces, including mine, eye level with her elbow. “Where is she?” she asks.

“Right here.” I smile. “Beside you.”

“Oh.” The flight attendant’s eyes take in my pale skin, my blonde hair and blue eyes. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize…” Her voice trails off.

Reaching across the aisle, I squeeze Olivia’s hand and wink at Mateo. “How would you?” I say. “No worries.” The kids stay silent. They don’t smile. When we’re out in the world, people often mistake us for strangers to one another, instead of for who we are: mother and daughter and son. The mistake is not malicious. My kids are adopted from Guatemala. We look nothing alike.

And although I was warned, by our social worker and adoption agency, of what lay ahead, I have to confess: I wasn’t prepared. After spending the first four decades of my life blending in, how could I imagine what it would be like always to stand out? To be the family who forever must explain, in the airport security line, at the new dentist’s office, during the drop-off at the first day of school: Yes, I’m the mother. Yes, these are my kids. Yes, we’re related, although not by blood. Yes, they’re really brother and sister, although not biologically.

I signed up for transracial adoptive parenthood. I embrace my role as my children’s mother. But today, as I sat on an airplane inches away from my children and someone assumed they were alone, I wonder, as I have a thousand times, what does that feel like for my children? When confronted with the reminder that they’re adopted, do the questions threaten the bond they feel with me? Or do they make the bond stronger?

Over the years, I’ve heard every argument there is against transracial, transcultural adoption. People who know nothing about me or my relationship with each of my children’s birth mothers judge me, based on their own assumptions and beliefs. I’ve been called a privileged white American, an entitled imperialist, a baby snatcher. None of that bothers me. What bothers me is being faced with the fact that, because of our physical appearance, our family tie is undermined. I know it’s a small thing, but just once it would be nice if a stranger saw my kids and me, and knew that we belong together.

 

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Northern Minnesota

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Olivia and I loved Northern Minnesota. For me, especially the clouds, so different from our clear California skies. We ate hand-harvested wild rice, wall-eye (a river fish), nut rolls (who could resist that name?), and drank local coffee and fresh spring water (filtered in some way I’m assuming?) Every day, I walked with my friend’s dogs and bathed in the lake. Oh, and used a composting outhouse. I learned about the Iron Range (Northern Minn. is a mining region), and the meaning of the word “Ranger,” which, if you are from those parts, you already understand.

We visited the house in Hibbing where Bob Dylan grew up (below left), and saw an open-pit mine, much more gigantic than my photo (below right) shows. I got my fill of burgers and fried food at “The Stand” outside Chisholm, which served the best onion rings ever. We met friends at the Highway 5 grill, and listened to an outdoor concert in Ely while browsing through a craft fair.  A great trip.

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Heritage Camp for Adoptive Families

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

We just returned from six days in Colorado, the main purpose of which was to attend Heritage Camp for Adoptive Families. I love our life, but a part of me wishes we could live in that supportive, insulated world forever. This is our fifth year attending, over the past six years: The first time I flew alone from California with Olivia, when she had just turned five, and from the moment we walked together into the big gathering hall filled with more than 100 adoptive families with kids born in Latin America, we looked at each other with disbelieving eyes. Was this place real? Even at five years old, Olivia, perhaps more than me, sensed we had discovered something special.

I’ll try to put into words why I love Heritage Camp. It’s the feeling of being at home, among friends, among families who also get stared at, everywhere else they go. Of not needing to explain anything to anyone. Of our family being in a large social situation, and in a very deep and rare way, feeling relaxed. It’s watching the teen counselors, most of whom are camp alumni, as they interact with our children–so caring and empathic because the teens are also adopted, with parents and other family members who don’t look like them, and they’ve already endured years of that, and have come out the other side, which gives me hope my children will, too. Of dancing at the Fiesta on Saturday night and realizing every child on the dance floor is adopted, not only mine, and what a relief that must feel like to my kids–for once, being like everybody else. Of listening to a roundtable discussion by a panel of adult adoptees, and learning from their experiences about ways I can try to do better. About ways we can all learn from each other.

I sometimes feel like a broken record, the way I constantly promote Heritage Camp, Heritage Camp, Heritage Camp! But then at dinner our first night, I asked an attendee from Illinois who was sitting at my table how she’d learned about Heritage Camp, and she said, “I read about it on a blog I follow, Mamalita.” Even better, she told me she definitely planned to return next year.

So I’ll say it again. If you haven’t ever attended Heritage Camp for Adoptive Families, think about it.  That’s all. Think about it.

Thank you. ~

 

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