Posts Tagged ‘transracial adoption’

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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New book about international adoption, “Carried in Our Hearts”

Monday, March 18th, 2013

I’m thrilled to announce that Adoption Under One Roof blogger Lisa S has contributed an essay to a new and important book about international adoption, Carried in Our Hearts: The Gift of Adoption – Inspiring Stories of Families Created Across Continents. Authored by Dr. Jane Aronson and published by Tarcher, the book will be released on April 18, and is available for pre-order now, in both hard cover and Kindle formats.

Carried in Our Hearts: The Gift of Adoption comprises a collection of essays written by adoptive parents whose families have been cared for by Dr. Aronson, aka “the orphan doctor,” during the past 20 years. The stories reveal the deep and complex emotions felt by adoptive parents, and will resonate with anyone who has embarked on this transformative journey. The chapters are divided into ten thematic sections–“The Decision,” “The Journey,” “The Moment We Met”–each introduced with an essay by Dr. Aronson. Throughout the book, Dr. Aronson discusses the arc of her life, from pediatrician, to adoptive mother, to founder of the international foundation, Worldwide Orphans; and her ongoing commitment to the “children left behind.”

For each book you purchase before April 18, Tarcher will donate $1 to Worldwide Orphans. Going forward, a portion of the book’s proceeds will continue to benefit the foundation.

Order your copy of Carried in Our Hearts today! I did, and cannot wait to read it. Particularly the contribution by Lisa S!

Congratulations! ~

Image Credit: Tarcher Publishing

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Double dipping

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

As readers of this blog may be aware, I recently joined another, bigger blog, Adoption Under One Roof. The move was motivated by my desire to step away from my Mamalita blog, due primarily to my guilt at not keeping it up. Even when I wasn’t writing blogs, I felt I should be writing blogs. After I wrote a blog, I thought, “Could I edit this better? And does anybody really care?”

Then my mother weighed in. “What do you mean you’re at a new blog? It took me six months to get mamalitathebook on my Favorites. Do I have to take my computer into the shop to add this one? How will I keep up with news of the kids?”

So here I am. Instead of feeling guilty that I’m shortchanging one blog, I now feel guilty that I’m shortchanging two. Leave it to me to make a choice guaranteed to double my anxiety.

Or so I would have thought. Because, for reasons I don’t understand, being accountable to two blogs energizes me to want to write more for both. Or maybe it’s that I just realize that people do care–okay, one person, my mother.

What I haven’t yet figured out is how to make readers of one website aware of recent postings on the other. Example: Yesterday I posted a blog at Adoption Under One Roof that I think you might like. It’s called Tween, and is about Olivia, and her current status as one.  Here’s the first paragraph:

Overnight, my 10-year-old daughter, Olivia, is suddenly a ‘tween. The child who allowed me to shop for her clothes, dutifully wearing the boxy t-shirts and sneakers I purchased, now insists on fitted tops with her leggings, the better to go with her black flats. No backpack for this girl, either. Olivia insists on a “tote.” Tubes of lip gloss fill the bathroom shelves—neutral colors, but still—and her collection of hair ornaments has reached double digits. Her fingers and toes glitter with a rainbow of sparkly polish. I’ve never seen a person wear a scarf with such panache.

 

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Standing in line at Costco today.

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

On Sunday, we’re hosting a cook-out at our house for families with children born in Guatemala. This is our third year holding this event, so it’s officially considered part of our family tradition. If you live within driving distance of Marin County, are a family through adoption with children from Guatemala, and you’re free on Sunday afternoon, please email me and I’ll send you directions. Apologies for not notifying you sooner—party-planning is not my strong suit, as anyone who knows me can attest.

Anyway, today as I was checking out at Costco, my cart loaded with hamburgers and hot dogs and chicken apple sausages, and piled high with assorted condiments, cheeses, and sides, the woman behind me said, “That’s a lot of hamburger buns.” She was middle-aged and harried, which is to say, she looked a lot like me.

Maybe I was feeling energized from noshing on too many free samples of jalapeno dip, madelines, and sliced tri-tip beef, but for whatever reason, I told her about our cook-out and my hope for warm weather, and how most of the guests had kids the same ages as mine, and how our kids and their friends have anticipated this party since Christmas, they’re one another’s BFFs. I finished my spiel by explaining, “The way we all know each other is that we’re families through adoption.”

The woman stared at me, her eyebrows rising ever so slightly. “So the kids know they’re adopted?”

Her comment stopped me short. Was it possible, in this day and age, that some adopted children might not be aware of how they came to their families?  I thought of the other adoptive parents I know, the dialogue we started the moment we first held our babies, about their other, first mommies, the ones whose tummies they grew in, a dialogue we continue every day; the workshops and seminars we attend; the books and blog posts we read; the groups we belong to; the heritage camps where we get together annually. The meetings with birth mothers we arrange, the relationships to foster families we maintain, the Spanish classes, the life books, the trips to Guatemala.

And yet. Here stood a woman before me, oblivious to any of it. Here stood a woman who thought it could be possible our beloved children might not know they’re adopted. I was reminded once again, standing in line at Costco, that not everyone sees the world of adoption through the same lens I do. 

Realizing that, I said simply, “Yes.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Alfombras and cascarones

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

I’ve never spent Semana Santa in Antigua, but someday!

However, as I mentioned in an earlier post, our trip to Guatemala this year coincided with Ash Wednesday, and we were lucky enough to view a few spectacular alfombras, or sawdust carpets. I’ve posted photos here, taken at the churches in San Felipe de Jesus (above), at La Merced, and La Cathedral (below).

At the very bottom, you’ll see a photo of Olivia with bits of paper in her hair. This Ash Wednesday tradition is known as cascarones, where children take hollowed-out eggs filled with pica pica, or small colorful bits of paper, and smash them against each others’ heads.  Last year, we celebrated Ash Wednesday in Panajachel, where we noticed teenagers smashing real eggs all over each other. Not sure if that’s unique to teenagers, or Panajachel, but our children loved watching the oozing yolks. 

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Sacred Season!

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Dillon International’s Guatemala Heritage Weekend, and Antigua.

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

This weekend, Mateo and I will travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I’m speaking at Dillon International’s Guatemala Heritage Weekend. I’m honored because Dillon is one of the nation’s oldest, most established adoption agencies, whose stated mission is “providing the best lifetime of care for each homeless child we are privileged to serve.” Mateo is thrilled, too, because he will get to play with friends he met last summer at MOGUATE, a confab of families with children born in Guatemala which was founded by the amazing Cindy Swatek (below left), and held annually in  Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.

In fact, it was another mother from Moguate, Susan Carter (below, far right), who recommended me to the folks at Dillon. (Susan managed the mercardo at Moguate, where, I confess, I undoubtedly numbered among her best customers.) So, as you can see, the world of adoption from Guatemala is small, and every day, gets smaller.

Which I view as a great thing!

Example: In February, my sister, Patrice; Olivia, and I made our annual trek to Guatemala to visit with Olivia’s birth family and experience her beautiful birth country. We’ve done this for the past several years–read a few accounts here and here and here– and each year the trip has been special in its own unique way.

Unique about this trip is that for the first time ever, we met up with two other adoptive families, whom I had met in Boston during my Mamalita book tour. Sharing the experience with the other families–Carly, Christina, and their husbands and kids–made our usual wonderful experience even more so. The kids bonded instantly, and we grown-ups did, too.

I cherish my connections formed through adoption, not only to my children’s birth country and their birth mothers and siblings, but to other adoptive families, too. E.M. Forster once famously said, “Only connect.” If you’ve connected with me in any way through adoption, please know how grateful I am for your friendship. Wherever you live, I hope you’ve also found a community.

See you in Tulsa!~

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A kids’ book with a (subtle) adoption theme

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

I’m forever on the look-out for books that my children will enjoy reading and/or listening to me read, a task more daunting than it may appear. Olivia and Mateo know what they like, and it’s not everything. My unscientific research reveals a few surefire elements: likeable characters around 7 and 9, the same ages as my kids; a fun and engaging plot that’s not “too scary”; and a cast that includes cute, furry animals, preferably small.

So when a friend recommended Susan Clymer’s There’s a Hamster in My Lunchbox, published in 1994, and gave it this review: “Sweet school-kids. Not scary at all. A cute, furry Teddy Bear hamster named Squeaks.  Oh, and by the way, the main character is a girl named Elizabeth, who was born in Honduras and adopted by a single mom from Kansas,” I took note. A chapter book about a cute, furry hamster that also featured an adoption theme? I ordered a copy that afternoon. (Used, on Amazon; the title is currently out of print.)

As I introduced the book to my kids I made no mention of the underlying theme, but when I got to page six and read this paragraph about the hamster known as Squeaks–

“Can we adopt her?” Elizabeth asked softly. She knew all about adoption. She had been born in Central America in a country called Honduras. Mom had adopted her when she was a baby. Her little sister had been adopted, too. –

Mateo turned to me with wide eyes, and in a voice filled with wonder said, “Elizabeth’s adopted too!”

Olivia, less impressed, said nothing, but the fact registered. I know this because a few chapters later my daughter said, in the world-weary tone of an older, wiser sister, ”I’m tired of thinking about adoption. Can we move on?” 

In our home, adoption is a subject that’s discussed, debated, and dissected, and has been for many years. Maybe too much, too often? Reading the book together gave Olivia a way to communicate the complexity of her feelings about adoption, without having to tell me directly. Sometimes, she’d just rather not think about it, thank you very much. That’s important information I need to hear, too.

Two thumbs up from us for There’s a Hamster in My Lunchbox. Even without the adoption theme, the book is a good, fun read.

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