Olivia and I in Antigua, and the front door of the house where we lived when I fostered her in 2003.
Us in 2003.
For us, no visit to Antigua is complete without a pilgrimage to this place.
So happy to be here! ~
Olivia and I in Antigua, and the front door of the house where we lived when I fostered her in 2003.
Us in 2003.
For us, no visit to Antigua is complete without a pilgrimage to this place.
So happy to be here! ~
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably figured out that I’m Catholic, and my husband and I are raising our kids Catholic. What does that mean, exactly? A lot of things, which I won’t go into here because I believe every religion is valid and to be respected, as is the choice of no religion at all, by the way, and I’m not telling this story as a platform to discuss my faith.
No, my reason for bringing up Catholicism is to share the experience of buying for my son Mateo his very own First Holy Communion suit, from the charming purveyor of First Holy Communion suits in the photo above, who practices his fashion genius somewhere in the depths of the municipal mercado in Antigua, Guatemala.
In February 2012, Mateo and I had bought a suit from the same distinguished gent, intending to save it for the Sacrament this April. What we hadn’t counted on was Mateo’s growth spurt, which steered the original suit pants and jacket dangerously toward clown costume territory.
But try finding the same tailor in the maze of the mercado! My remembered directions sounded like this: “Walk down the right side aisle, through the section with the pirated DVDs, past the candles and flowers and soccer balls, turn left at the section with the raw meat hanging, through the wrapping paper and baskets and candy, past the shoes and wallets and leather belts, beyond the place with the sacks of rice and beans and the guy who sells machetes. Somewhere around that.”
Fortunately, the lady in the First Communion dress section knew exactly where the tailor who sold First Communion suits was headquartered, and she kindly escorted us to the proper stall. Success!
Not shown here are the suit’s handsome complementary items: the white ruffled shirt, the black bow tie. For that, we’ll have to wait for Mateo’s First Holy Communion “big reveal.”
Stay tuned. ~
Last Saturday, Mateo, my sister Patrice, and I arrived in my favorite place on earth, Antigua, Guatemala. It’s insane how much I love Antigua—the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, the ring of volcanoes, the churches, the Square. We’ve been visiting Antigua since I fostered Olivia there in 2003, and every trip we discover something different. This time, we climbed Volcano Pacaya, an extraordinary adventure that deserves its own post, and will get one soon. We also spent two days at Lake Atitlan, my other favorite destination. Olivia’s Girl Scout troop collected some 75 pairs of gently used kids’ sneakers, soccer cleats, and shoes, which Mateo, Patrice, and I lugged down on the airplane, and hand-delivered to Mayan Families, an organization we support that serves indigenous families in the region. Pictures on that adventure to come, too.
This trip, we connected with three other adoptive families visiting Antigua, two with eight-year-old boys, and one with a younger girl. The girl’s family I had met virtually, through our mutual membership on an adoption listserve; I know the boys’ families through our local adoption group. I mention this as another benefit of forming adoption networks—when you visit Guatemala, you can meet up with friends. Mateo loved sharing meals and fun with all three kids. And let me tell you, for an active, eight-year-old boy, scaling Pacaya with two other active, eight-year-old boys qualifies as downright awesome.
The fabulous Nancy Hoffman, who has lived in Guatemala for more than a decade and is known to most of you reading this as the founder of guatemalareservations.com, helped us with arrangements. If you’re planning to visit, contact her at Nancy@GuatemalaReservations.com and she’ll set you up.
The Saturday before we left, we visited friends who live in one of the small villages surrounding Antigua. After a lovely afternoon, on the way back to town, we passed local residents creating alfombras (carpets made of sawdust and various materials) outside their homes and businesses for the village’s Lenten procession later that night. The artists kindly indulged us by letting me take pictures while Mateo inspected their handiwork, delighted to take part in the local tradition.
Our trip consisted of dozens of such small, unexpected moments, which already have entered the realm of treasured memories. To me, those treasured memories are what give life meaning. I feel lucky to share them with my son Mateo, in his beautiful birth country of Guatemala.
One of the best parts of writing a book about adoption is that I get to meet a lot of people connected to adoption. Two years ago at Heritage Camp in Colorado, I met my now-friend, Caroline, who said she, like me, lived in the Bay Area, and would I be interested in attending a meeting of her adoption-group book club to discuss Mamalita?
Naturally, I accepted. (And by the way, if you live anywhere remotely close and would like me to talk with your book club, please send an email because of course I will!)
When I arrived, the most lovely, smart, and interesting array of women welcomed me into their fold for an afternoon chat-fest. The conversation started with my book, but soon drifted to their stories and journeys; feelings about parenthood, children and families; and our lives now. You know how, occasionally, you meet someone and you just ”get” each other? This rarely happens for me. When it does, I pounce.
“Are you accepting new members?” I asked. “Because if you are, I’m in.”
Tim, Olivia, Mateo, and I have been meeting with the organization for more than a year now, once a month, usually at someone’s home. Everyone brings food to share. We mingle, nosh, and catch up for about an hour while our children run around, then a small band of hardy souls—Dads, mostly, but also Moms–herd the kids to a backyard or playground for another two hours while the book club dissects the latest selection. Afterwards, we re-assemble for dessert.
The absolute best part of belonging to the group is watching our children’s friendships develop. Both Olivia and Mateo love to play with the other girls and boys, not only because they’re all adopted from Central America, although that’s a wonderful benefit, but because they have fun.
Last Saturday, one of our number, Michele, hosted our big annual gathering at her family’s church. Another member, Dara, constructed a homemade pinata to represent a Guatemalan bus, and everyone brought food, crafts, and good cheer. Our fearless leader, Sheryl, organized.
Wherever you live, find a community! If one doesn’t exist, create one. That’s what my friend Cindy Swatek did in Missouri, with her fantastic MOGUATE. Trust me: the effort, schedule reshuffling, and travel time will be forgotten as you sink into the comfort that comes from being among people who share the specific experience of being touched by adoption.
For years, I’ve known that my daughter Olivia, more than the average kid, loves bugs, flowers, birds, and trees. My husband appreciates nature, too, but his interest veers toward the scientific— “How much sun exposure do we need to optimize our strawberries, raspberries, lemons, and tomatoes? What level of water?”—while, I alas, remain hopelessly suburban: the one who hikes on the marked trail that ends at the warming hut, and opts for the cabin instead of the tent.
No, Olivia’s love of nature is DNA-deep. It comes from her biological family. On one of our first visits with Olivia’s birth mom and grandma, I watched with delight as three generations laughed out loud at the antics of a small hopping sparrow, and clapped their hands at the beauty of a rock formation. One possible explanation is that, in the small highland village where her relatives have lived for centuries, careful observation equals survival. Another could be that they are a family of natural-born artists. Whatever the reason, that keen ability to see is hard-wired, and Olivia possesses it.
I became more aware of this special talent last weekend, when my friend Nina invited us to Slide Ranch, a self-sustaining farm perched on the jagged cliffs of the Northern California coast. We kids and adults enjoyed running around, checking out the chickens and goats and bee hives and compost pile, and searching for hidden objects on Nina’s scavenger hunt. But as Nina observed, the wild, dramatic setting and fresh salt air opened up something new and different in Olivia. It felt as if simply being there allowed my daughter to settle into a place of deep peace, a reverie of happiness.
As an adoptive parent, I’m reminded often that our children are who they are. They come to us that way. Part of the joy of being my children’s mother is discovering, and honoring, each new layer.
Recently, two articles about the ways adoptees are affected by adoption made a big impression on me. The first, Adoptee View: What Can a Tiny Baby Know? by Karl Stenske, recounts the trauma experienced by babies who are separated from their birth mothers. The second, Primal Wound Author Speaks on Adoptee Challenges, an interview conducted by Nancy Axness with Nancy Verrier, discusses the phenomenon of the primal wound—that is, the deep and lasting hurt felt by people who are relinquished for adoption. Verrier is the author of The Primal Wound and has written and spoken extensively about this concept.
As an adoptive parent, I finished the articles wondering “Are my children doomed to a lifetime of pain? Can I do anything to help them heal from their primal wounds?”
Then, this week, a friend sent me a link to a post titled Adopter Savior Syndrome (A.S.S.), on the blog Coloring Out Lori Jane. The first few paragraphs left me nearly gasping for air:
What is Adopter Savior Syndrome (A.S.S.)?
A.S.S. is a highly contagious and devastating disease that is estimated to be found in millions of White adoptive parents and White adoptive prospective parents around the constructed Western world. Adopter Savior Syndrome is not yet fully understood, though it is speculated to be a White disease that is particularly pervasive among desperate wives and cisgender men with Yellow Fever… Ask your adult Adoptee about A.S.S. if you experience the urgent and persistent need to adopt in order to become a complete person.
And that’s only the first hundred words. You must read the whole post to gain the full impact. Better yet, read all of Lori Jane’s posts to understand the depth of her sorrow and rage at being a Korean baby removed from her birth country and adopted by white American parents. Through her writing, Lori Jane expresses pain related to a primal wound that feels acute and devastating.
After reading these three essays, I was tempted to take to my bed, overwhelmed by inadequacy. Then I realized: I’m my children’s mother. Even if I wanted to, I don’t have the luxury of saying “This is too hard! I give up!” So inside of hiding under the covers, I went outside for a walk, and the fresh air made me think: “What can these writers teach me? Are there lessons to be learned from each of their experiences? How can I try to do better for my children?”
One of life’s realities is that many families face challenges. Illness, a physical or mental disability, poverty, insecurity, anxiety, alcoholism, physical or mental abuse, isolation, fear. One of the realities of our home is that we—my husband Tim and I, and our children, Olivia (10) and Mateo (8)–are a transracial adoptive family. Among Tim and my duties as parents is to help our children navigate that experience. We strive to give our kids a context where they feel comfortable with their adopted-ness.
During my walk, I thought of a list of ways Tim and I—and literally hundreds of other adoptive parents we know—try to foster healthy attitudes toward adoption, Guatemala, and our family. I don’t pretend that this list, or we, are perfect, or even the best solution. Nor do I pretend our methods can heal the indelible scars of the primal wound. My list serves merely as a place to start:
We talk about adoption. A lot. From the moment we first held our babies in our arms, we’ve told them their adoption stories: “You were born in another mommy’s tummy.” Our conversations continue today: “How did you feel about meeting your birth mom? Anything you want to talk about?” We don’t wait for our children to ask questions, although we are happy when they do. We keep the channels open by bringing up the subject ourselves.
We study Spanish. Personally, I’m terrible at it, but the point is I try, and my children appreciate the effort. We honor our children’s heritage, and that includes studying the language that people in their native country speak.
We visit Guatemala. This is easy for us, because we love the country. Yes, it’s an international flight to Central America. We can’t drink the water or eat the lettuce. Sometimes we worry about our safety. But those inconveniences are insignificant when compared with our children’s joy at getting to know their birth country, and feeling at home there.
We go to Heritage Camp. In many adoption circles, heritage camp is criticized as a faux experience where families learn to make tortillas and black beans. In fact, Heritage Camp has less to do with “heritage” than with our children connecting with other kids who share a very specific experience: being adopted, being a foreign-born person in the United States, having a skin color/religion/cultural history/interest set/talents/desires/that may be very different from one’s adoptive parents and peers.
At home, we create a local network of other adoptive families, with whom we meet monthly. We view this as our own mini-heritage camp. (See above.) Given a choice, we will always choose the dentist, healthcare provider, church leader, and teacher who looks like our kids.
We searched for and found our children’s birth mothers. Finding “Ana” and “Lety” perhaps hasn’t “healed” for our children what Nancy Verrier calls the primal wound, but it has gone a long way toward filling in the blanks about who they are and where they come from. My kids feel loved by their birth mothers, and seem to understand the circumstances that compelled each of these women to do what they did, which is place their children for adoption.
We embrace the unease. We tease it apart and analyze it. One day, Olivia said to me, “Really, I should be living in a village and speaking Spanish and K’iche. I should be wearing traje (Guatemala’s native dress).” Instead of feeling rejected or threatened, I validated her feelings by suggesting she address the dichotomy she feels in a painting. (Olivia is a talented artist.) Immediately, she planned a self-portrait that showed her split down the middle: half in everyday clothes, half in traje, against a background of part suburban California and part Guatemalan countryside. We both agreed that adoption likely will inform Olivia’s art for many years to come.
Finally, we honor our children’s birth country by supporting organizations that help women, children, and families who live there—a feeding program, a convent, a home for the elderly, a high school student sponsorship, a program for teachers, and birth family support. Our actions show our children that we care about the future of Guatemala.
That’s my list. If anyone has any other suggestions or comments, please feel free to share them with me. I learn best by listening.
Over Veterans’ Day weekend, friends we met through Latin American Heritage Camp came to visit. And because their daughter, like our daughter, studies ballet, I bought tickets for four of us–the two girls, the other mother, and me–to a performance by Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez. For years, I’ve heard about this company, and now that I’ve finally seen them, I can say, without reservation, if they ever come to your town, or anywhere close, run, don’t walk, to the box office to buy yourself a ticket.
The costumes! The music! The passion! The pageantry! All absolutely fabulous.
The program notes state that Ballet Folklorico was founded by Amalia Hernandez in 1952, and numbers 76 dancers. Hernandez’s goal in starting the company was to preserve the folk dances of Mexico. That she has done, and then some. Every piece was more intricate and involved than the one previous, and just when I thought the choreography and costumes could never top themselves, out would parade a line of mariachis, or a few dozen people decked in quetzal headdresses, or a man lassoing a rope over his head in a breathtakingly display of skill and arm strength.
The girls loved it!
My only complaint–and it’s not a complaint, really, but an observation–is that the floor of the venue stage–in this case, the Marin County Civic Center–was covered with a thick rubber mat. Alas, this is common in performance spaces, but I know from my years of tap-dancing that a wooden floor is what the intricate footwork of Ballet Folklorico cries out for. Rubber deadens the rat-a-tat-tat of the heel drops, turning them into dull thuds.
But this is a small quibble. Ballet Folklorico is a must-see, especially for families like ours. Go!
For more than a decade, every April, I’ve driven past the ranuncula fields along the 5 freeway in Carlsbad, California without stopping, first when I was single and living alone and motored south from Los Angeles to visit family, and now, as a married woman in San Francisco, with husband and children in tow.
Last week, at the tail end of our April Spring Break visit, I told Tim and the kids I wanted to drive north on the 5 to Carlsbad, but this time, I actually wanted to get out of the car. After all these years, I yearned to walk through the 50 acres of blooming ranunculas and see the flowers up close. As luck would have it, the Friday we decided to go, San Diego experienced one of its rare and drenching downpours. When we showed up at the ticket booth, dripping wet and dressed in all the clothes we were able to scrounge from the back seat of the minivan, the attendant asked “You’re here today? Are you crazy?!”
Well, yes, as a matter of fact, we probably are. That aside, we had driven north to see the ranuncula fields–we’d even parked and gotten out of the car!–and by golly, that’s what we were going to do.
Here’s a series of photos I took, of Mateo and Olivia posing in front of a sand castle “surfing gnome”; a lovely red tractor; a sculpture of a kneeling girl wearing a sunhat; and a pre-Disneyland era play house.
I have to admit, the adventure started with groans and protests–let’s just say my children never relish the prospect of being uncomfortable and wet–but after it was over, as we sipped warm hot chocolate at home, the kids pronounced the fields ”awesome” and the rain “not so bad.”
I’ll resist the impulse to say anything about stopping and smelling the–you know the rest. ~
This past Saturday, we drove 10 hours from San Francisco to San Diego to visit family for Spring Break. We’ve made the trip down the 5 freeway so often we know every rest stop, fast-food joint, orange grove, and billboard along the way. (Shane P. Donlon, anyone?) Not that I’m complaining. Part of the adventure is the journey.
On Tuesday, a friend of Tim’s, a former Navy doctor on the USS Ranger, gave us a guided tour of the aircraft carrier Midway, for years the largest ship in the world, and now parked in San Diego Harbor. From the Midway website:
“Commissioned a week after the end of World War II, the USS Midway embarked on an unprecedented 47-year odyssey that set new standards in naval aviation. More than 225,000 Americans took part in the odyssey that ended after Midway served as the Persian Gulf flagship in Desert Storm. Longest-serving U.S. Navy carrier of the 20th century and largest ship in the world, 1945-1955.”
We spent two hours exploring below-deck and above, and finished with a new understanding of the phrase “tight quarters.” On the Midway, sailors slept in bunks three deep; on other ships, we were told, they can be stacked in layers of five. The second photo shows a “zebra door” or “Z door,” water-tight when closed; in the bottom photo, Olivia and Mateo navigate one of the ship’s maze-like hallways, climbing over a small steel lip referred to as a “knee-knocker.”
The ship is one-fifth of a mile long, a distance felt on the flight deck.
A peek inside the captain’s area (can’t remember the technical name) stands out as a high point.
We didn’t try the flight simulator, but the teenagers who emerged after turning upside down and around seemed to relish the experience. A trip to the Midway: Fabulous! ~
Help your kids show their birth-country pride by giving them a genuine soccer jersey from Guatemala. Not only will you put a smile on your little one’s face, you’ll also help www.behrhorst.org, best known around here for their commitment to clean water for all people in Guatemala.
Here’s the deal. For $25 , adoptive mom Sonya Fultz will buy a shirt and mail it to you on March 28th. That covers the cost of the shirt and the shipping–and leaves a little left over, to be donated to Behrhorst. Everybody wins!
Mail your $25 check to “Friends Through Guatemalan Adoption” (local Cincinnati adoptive families group) at 939 Sleepy Hollow Drive, Monroe, Ohio 45050.
Please include the following information when you mail your check:
But you must act soon. Your check needs to arrive in Ohio by March 20th so Sonya knows the final count before leaving for Guatemala.
Thanks so much!