Posts Tagged ‘transracial adoptive families’

Our adoption peeps

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

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.




Nature girl

Monday, January 28th, 2013

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.


Learning by listening

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

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.


A spectacular spectacle

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

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!


Flower fields. San Diego

Friday, April 20th, 2012


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.  ~




In San Diego on the Midway

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

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! ~


Soccer jerseys from Guatemala. Order yours today!

Monday, March 12th, 2012


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, 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:

  1. Your mailing address if different from the one on the check.
  2. Your email address, in case Sonya has questions.
  3. Size of the shirt you want (2T/3T; youth 4-6; youth 8-10; youth 12-14; adult small, adult medium, adult large).

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!




A day in the life

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

The kids and I have been in San Diego for the past few weeks, with many of our days spent tromping happily through the vast acreage of Sea World San Diego. The highlight for the kids, always, is Blue Horizons. To visualize, think Broadway spectacular crossed with Cirque de Soleil,  and throw in a cast of peppy dolphins and an array of trained birds.  Cue the music.  Add flags. That’s Blue Horizons.

I admit it. I also love the show.  

But for my purposes here, I’ll tell you what happened right after our latest foray. The kids and I were browsing in the gift shop—of course–when a little girl about Olivia’s age walked up and began this conversation.

Little girl: “Are you their mother?”

Me: “Yes, I am. Why do you ask?”

Little girl: ”Because you don’t look like them.”

Me: “You’re right. We don’t look alike. But I’m their mother.”

The little girl stared at me.  Olivia picked at her fingernails. Mateo wandered away. Then, because I always feel an obligation to educate people, especially children who approach me with curiosity, I said, “I’m their mother through adoption. They were born in Guatemala.”

“Oh,” said the little girl. “Are they really brother and sister?”

“They are now,” I answered. And I took my kids’ hands and steered them toward the Forbidden Reef.

I have to tell you, as an adoptive mother, I always forget my children are adopted. And then, what do you know—someone comes up and reminds me.



Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

This weekend, Olivia turned nine. Our celebration was small— my sister over for Olivia’s favorite dinner of Tim’s spaghetti, and a few hoped for gifts: a sewing kit with scissors and thread (sewing small stuffed animals by hand is Olivia’s current passion), a cookbook, a puzzle, and a pack of origami paper with a booklet of instructions.

Mateo entertained, pushing together some deck chairs on which he hopped and shuffled in a free-form tap dance; Olivia modeled the earrings she beaded for herself–dangling clip-ons in her favorite colors, purple and  pink. As my sister showed Olivia and Mateo some of her favorite origami designs, I learned something new about my husband. “Origami” was his favorite class in kindergarten; that and “Abacus.” I knew Tim spent his formative years in Japan and Germany—his dad was in the military–but had no idea he’d mastered origami. You think you know everything there is to know about someone, and then discover a new detail.

The day ended with the annual Ladybug release. The bugs are good for the garden–reportedly they eat aphids, although that population continues to thrive–and every year Tim buys Olivia and Mateo a box. According to Tim, if you release ladybugs in the evening when the weather’s cool, they won’t stray far from home. As Olivia turned one year older, that sounded good to me.


My son and the NPR program on transracial adoption

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

If you’re reading this blog for the first time, you should know that I’m a white adoptive mother to two children born in Guatemala. My daughter, Olivia, is almost 9; my son, Mateo, is 6. Olivia is indigenous Maya; Mateo is what Guatemalans call “Ladino,” meaning his heritage is Hispanic. Each has brown skin; one darker, one lighter. Our family discusses skin color often; see two previous blog posts, Peach and Brown.

On Friday afternoon, as he climbed into the car after school, Mateo asked me “Can brown people marry white people?”

“Of course they can,” I said. “You can marry someone with any skin color.” I skipped my usual speech about marriage, which includes a requirement for love, college graduation, money in the bank, maturity, self-awareness, etc. etc. This conversation was about something else.

I continued, “Did someone say you couldn’t, because you’re brown?”  Mateo nodded, looking miserable. I paused and took a deep breath. “Another kid? Or a grown-up?”

“Another kid,” Mateo said. (And here I will disguise the child’s identity.) “X.” 

Why am I writing to tell you about this? Because I want you to know that, yes, even here in Marin County, Northern California, which considers itself one of the most enlightened, educated places on earth, another kid said those words to my 6-year-old son. And I’m guessing X didn’t make it up out of thin air. He must have heard it from an adult.

On May 11, NPR ran a great “All Things Considered” program that really resonated for me:  The Parenting Dilemmas of Transracial Adoption. Here’s an excerpt from the NPR website:

Today, approximately 40 percent of adoptions in America are transracial — and that number is growing. In decades past, many American parents of transracial adoptions simply rejected racial categories, raising their children as though racial distinctions didn’t matter.

“Social workers used to tell parents, ‘You just raise your child as though you gave birth to her,’ ” Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, tells NPR’s Neal Conan… Pertman’s organization has conducted extensive research on transracial adoption in America. He says turning a blind eye to race wasn’t good for anybody. “We don’t live in a colorblind society,” he says.

University of Chicago professor Gina Samuels — who is multiracial and was raised by a white family — has also researched the experiences of children of color who were raised by Caucasian parents. She tells Conan that parents who take a colorblind approach to raising their children often do so with the best of intentions.

“[It] reflects maybe how they hope the world will be someday,” Samuels says. “But oftentimes what this ends up doing is having children [meet] the world — the real world — unprepared.”

On Friday, my son Mateo came up against the “real world” referred to by Professor Samuels. And please let me assure you, this wasn’t the first time. I’m glad Mateo trusts me enough to talk about it.