Why I Write about Adoption – Part Two

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Note: Welcome to the second installment of a two-part post by author/ adoptive mother Jessica O’Dwyer. For part one go to https://tinyurl.com/y3uff7xz

A novel was begging to be written, but I couldn’t find my way in…

Then one summer, we hired a driver who took us to Nebaj and Rabinal, in the highlands of Guatemala, the epicenter of the country’s armed conflict. It turned out our driver had been a little boy during those hard times. He took us to graveyards and memorials, churches and village squares. We met other survivors of the conflict and visited Rabinal’s museum honoring the victims. Everything came together in my mind. The beginning and end of the novel, the entire narrative arc.The story in Mother Mother is told from two points of view: Julie, a white adoptive mother in California, and Rosalba, the Ixil Maya mother in Guatemala whose baby Julie adopts. Both mothers grapple with power and race, deception and love as they navigate their life circumstances, and life choices.

I love my children and our lives together. Adoption is how my family was formed, and my family is the best thing in my life. But after nearly two decades as an adoptive mother, I know our lives together started at chapter two. My children’s first chapter was written before we came together, when they were formed in their mothers’ wombs and later separated from them. As a writer and adoptive mother, I honor that first chapter by acknowledging and exploring it.

After the publication of my second book, people ask if I’m planning a trilogy. Possibly. To me, adoption is the most fascinating subject on earth.

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Jessica O’Dwyer, an adoptive mother, lives in California with her husband, son, and daughter. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Adoptive Families and Marin Independent Journal.

Why I Write about Adoption – Part One

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Guest Post by Jessica O’Dwyer

I’m the adoptive mother to two teens born in Guatemala, ages 18 and 15, and have written two books with adoption as theme. My memoir, Mamalita, was published in 2010. My novel, Mother Mother, was published last month. It was during my book tour for Mamalita—remember public readings, in bookstores?!— that I first learned people harbor strong feelings about adoption—pro and con. I also learned that trying to change anyone’s opinion on the subject was futile. Better simply to write my truth and hope the reader understands.
Seventeen years ago, I quit my job as a publicist at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and moved to a rented apartment in Antigua, Guatemala to live with my then-toddler daughter whom my husband and I were trying to adopt. We had been enmeshed in the process for more than a year, ever since we saw our daughter’s photo and had fallen in love.
I wasn’t the only would-be mother living in Guatemala who was sorting out a stalled adoption. We were a group of eight, with nothing in common except our desire to become mothers and the belief that our bureaucratic nightmares should not be allowed to happen to anyone else. That year, more than 3,000 Americans adopted children from Guatemala. Each of those families had a story, no two the same.
After returning home with my daughter six months later, international adoption became headline news, none of it good. The private adoption system in Guatemala was singled out as particularly corrupt. Front-page stories described payments to birth mothers, coercion to become pregnant, and the trawling of countrysides by “finders” to trick young women into relinquishing their babies. Adoptive parents like me were depicted as privileged Americans who swooped in to snatch kidnapped infants. Even UNICEF pronounced it was better for a child to grow up in an orphanage in his country of origin than to be adopted by foreign parents. The news got so bad it was impossible not to feel under attack.
But that was only part of the story. The story I experienced was that of parents who loved their children, pushing back against a system that seemed designed to manipulate emotions at every turn.
When I lived in Antigua, the other mothers used to say, “Somebody needs to write a book about this.” My entire life I’d been searching for the one story I had to tell. Even as I was living the experience, I knew our adoption saga was it. The result was Mamalita.
A few years later, I realized there was more to say about family, marriage, and adoption; and about the violent history of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war and its aftermath. Adoption is so broad and so deep, and most novels that incorporate it as a theme, to me, merely skim over the surface. My goal was to give a more complete, nuanced, and layered picture.
The inspiration for my novel, Mother Mother, came from living with adoption 24/7 in my own family, as well as from my growing obsession with Guatemala’s political history and how it led to the widespread adoption of babies to other countries. During our annual summer trips to Guatemala, we visited with our kids’ birth mothers and I recognized the complexity of their stories. A novel was begging to be written, but I couldn’t find my way in. (To Be Continued)

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November is National Adoption Month: Elaine Pinkerton’s The Goodbye Baby website will be featuring guest posts from adoptive parents. Please comment and, if inspired, submit your blog ideas for future publication. Send them via the site.

Jessica O’Dwyer, an adoptive mother, lives in California with her husband, son, and daughter. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Adoptive Families and Marin Independent Journal.

Celebrating National Adoption Month

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November is National Adoption Month — a time set aside to celebrate families that have grown through adoption. The goal is to raise awareness of the more than 125,000 children waiting in foster care in the United States. As an adoptee who writes both nonfiction and fiction centering on the “adoption theme,” I’ve often encountered fascinating stories and individuals through the online adoption network.The adoption triad comprises Adoptive parents, Birthparents, and Adoptees. I’ve enjoyed meeting people from every part of the triad.

Author Jessica O’Dwyer is one of those individuals. After reading her beautifully written books Mamalita and Mother Mother, I “met” (through her website) Jessica O’Dwyer.  Jessica is an adoptive parent; I’m an adoptee; we’re both authors. It’s no surprise that we’ve become online friends. In fact, we were recently interviewed by Santa Fe’s public radio station, KSFR (101.1). Here’s the podcast.

 

My first adoption book was a nonfiction collection, diary entries about growing up as an adopted daughter and feeling that I had to pretend to be the “real” daughter. It documents my life from the 1950s through the 1980s and concludes with a acceptance and reconciliation with the past.

My second adoption-themed book, All the Wrong Places is a suspense novel. Adoptee Clara Jordan moves from the east coast to Red Mesa, New Mexico, and begins a teaching year at the American Indian Academy. Shortly after the start of a new semester, headmaster Joseph Speckled Rock is found dead on Clara’s classroom floor. Both teacher and students are shocked.

Clara deals with her students’ grief and her own frustration by daily running in the rough hills surrounding the academy. Carnell Dorame, a talented student and Clara’s favorite, uses the Internet to trace the identity of her birthmother. The school’s computer teacher Henry DiMarco invites Clara out for a date and they end up falling in love. Henry, however, is not what he seems. His real business is smuggling pottery, an enterprise that is tied in with the death of Speckled Rock.

When Clara begins to suspect Henry’s dual nature, he decides that she is in the way and breaks up with her. She runs to a remote arroyo and underground cave studying petroglyphs that might lead to her birthmother’s identity. Not to give away the ending, I’ll just say that the question—Will adoptee Clara Jordan be able learn about her family tree or will she die trying? — is answered by the book’s conclusion.

The Hand of Ganesh – Publication Date 2021

Third in adoption theme is The Hand of Ganesh, an adventure story. Clara Jordan and her friend Arundhati (“Dottie”) Benet travel to India in search of Dottie’s birth family. The novel is finished and being edited.

Throughout the month of November, I’ll be publishing guest posts that reflect different parts of the adoption triad. Stay tuned!

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Join Elaine Pinkerton on alternate Mondays for reflections on adoption and life.

Comments are welcome!

 

The Core of Adoption

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I’ve come a long way since my memoir The Goodbye Baby-Adoptee Diaries was published (2012), but the way I felt then is still valid. Some things don’t change. You wake up in the morning, despite years of “recovery” and re-calibrating those original feelings of abandonment, you’re still adopted. Herewith, the original beginning of my memoir …


Sixty years ago, toward the end of World War Two, a five-year-old girl was left on the doorstep of strangers. Her mother left her there because she couldnʼt feed or house her child and also, suspected the girl, because as a daughter, she wasnʼt quite good enough. The strangers, miraculously, turned out to be wonderful new parents. Theyʼd been looking for a little girl just like her. Along with her younger brother, nearly two years old and part of the deal, the girl went from rags to riches. Though the term meant nothing at the time, she had been adopted.
A happy ending? Well, it seemed so until the girl went to school. Immediately she noticed that the other children all had their real parents. She was pretending that her mother was her “real” mother and trying desperately to be good enough. The worst thing would be going back to the foster homes sheʼd endured with the mother who couldnʼt keep her.
Outwardly, life was so much better now that she should have rejoiced. Her new parents did not really want to talk about why they adopted her. She was afraid to ask when her real mother would be coming back to get her. Possibly she would never come back, and it would be because she wasnʼt a good enough daughter. The little girl grew up carrying that shameful secret in her heart.
When the girl turned ten, she received a diary for Christmas. It had a lock and key and lines for writing anything she wanted. By now, it seemed to the girl that the kind, nurturing parents were new “real parents.” Never mind that she had many questions about her life with the original mother. If that mother gave her away, there must have been a reason.
Deep down, no matter what the new parents told her, she believed it was all her
fault. She was somehow inferior, not smart or pretty enough, just not OK. Since she couldnʼt talk about the shameful secret, she took to writing in her diary.
With the little blank book, she didnʼt have to be someone that she wasnʼt. The diary was her best friend, her confidante, a repository of feelings that she couldnʼt express anywhere else. It was so helpful. Always there, always ready to listen. Never judging or disapproving. A place where she was always welcome. So comforting were the diaries that when the girl became a teenager, a wife and mother, a grandmother, then a widow, she continued filling up book after book. At some point in the distant future, sheʼd burn the diaries, toss them into the ocean or maybe bury them in an arroyo.
But wait! The diaries might contain something valuable — a certain confession, insight, lament or situation. Gathered in a book, selected excerpts could provide a window for others whoʼd been adopted. Now a senior citizen, the girl resolved to harvest her journals, to transcribe passages that cried out to her. All of the mistakes, the bad decisions, the obsessions, the wrong thinking, would be put on the table and examined.
Just as she resolved that her personal history was worth writing, she was blindsided. The deaths of her biological father, her adoptive parents, and then her husband pushed aside the diary project. It was almost too much to bear, and for several years she lived inside her grief.
Only one journey would lead the girl to a healing. She had to go back and actually READ the diaries. As the girl scoured the past, an amazing thing happened. She came to realize that there was nothing so special about her personal drama. It was all part of being human. At last she could forgive herself and even begin to get over “growing up adopted.” She could quit playing a part and start living her life.

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Learn more by tuning in online to KSFR F.M. 101.1 when Elaine will be interviewed by MK Mendoza about the adoptee’s journey. Tuesday, October at 8:30 a.m. (MT). Comments welcome!



Adopting Hope

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Have you ever read something that brought a seismic shift in your thinking? This happened to me last week.
I was taking an urban walkabout in Santa Fe, New Mexico to the nearly deserted Plaza, our town square. I came across a prose poem inspired by the pandemic. It was displayed, blown up large, on a storefront, and it inspired me to think differently about my months of self-imposed isolation. I recalled the dozens of online operas I’ve viewed, thanks to the Metropolitan Opera’s HD free streaming, of my thriving vegetable garden in the back yard, of books I’ve read lately, of the novel I’ just finished writing, of hikes in the mountains and arroyos. Though I miss people, their hugs and smiles and warmth, there are blessings that come with staying put.

Photo by Tom McGuffy

 

PEOPLE STAYED HOME
by Catherine (Kitty) O’Meara

And people stayed home and read books, and listened and rested and exercised and made art and played games and learned new ways of being and stopped and listened deeper.
Some meditated some prayed some met their shadows
and the people began to think differently and the people healed
And in the absence of people who lived in ignorant ways, dangerous, mindless and heartless,
even the Earth began to heal.
And when the danger ended and people found each other they grieved for the dead
and they made new choices and dreamed of new images and
created new ways of life
and healed the Earth completely
just as they were healed themselves.

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Join author Elaine Pinkerton on alternate Mondays for reflections on adoption, hiking, and the writing life. Her newly-completed novel The Hand of Ganesh is being edited and scheduled for publication in 2021. What have you found helpful during the Coronavirus era? Please share your stories. Your comments are invited!

Outdoor Time

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Fall!

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For today’s post, I’m bringing forth a poem I’ve loved ever since studying it as an English major at the University of Virginia. This ode speaks to one at many levels; for me—don’t ask me just how— it ties in to the theme of my blog an adoption journey.
As time unfolds, we adopt and embrace each season. During the current pandemic era, I’ve been revisiting my favorite literature. John Keats, who lived from 1795-1821, created some of the most beautiful poetry of the Romantic Era. This tribute to the season has been called “the most serenely flawless poem in English.” Enjoy.

Sunrise in Late September

Sunrise in Late September

Ode to Autumn

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease;

For Summer has o’erbrimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook;
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Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river-sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Aspen Vista, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Join Elaine on alternate Mondays for reflections on Adoption and Life

An Adoptee Abroad: Part Two

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Note from Elaine: The current pandemic has inspired me to reminisce about “Before Time.” Today I give you, dear readers, the second blog post from a wonderful trip one year ago. This journey, full of tulips and windmills (and also a lot of history), was one of the best I’ve ever taken. Like so many others, I look forward to a time when we’re free to travel safely: May it come soon!

A highlight of this Viking River Cruise was visiting Mastricht and Nimegan in the Netherlands, sites of the WWII operation called Market Garden. The operation did not succeed in turning back Hitler’s armies and resulted in some 8,000 deaths of Allied soldiers. This somber reminder of war’s futility was one of the most meaningful parts of my recent journey to Holland and Belgium. I was adopted shortly after the end of the WWII…and in a way I’m a product of that conflict. Both my adoptive and original father served. They were among the lucky ones who returned. So many did not. On this day we honor those lost and those who fought in all wars for America’s freedom.

I was deeply moved listening to the guide at the American Cemetery in Mastricht. He explained that between five and ten thousand people visit the cemetery every Memorial Day to honor family members lost during the war.

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Speaking of WWII, From Calcutta with Love, a tribute to my adoptive parents, is being reissued by Pajarito Press in late 2021. More information to follow. Join me on alternate Mondays for reflections as seen through adoption-colored glasses. And please let us know if you have a WWII story you’d like to share!

Farewell Ode to August

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Glad to leave August behind!

 

 

My Farewell Ode to August
by Bev Larzelere

Be gone fierce and haughty August! 
Imposing , arresting, dramatic, and solemn~Be Gone!
You were too august  with your honorable memorials, toppling statues, flying bullets, forceful winds, revolting riots, controversial conventions, inflaming lies, powerful protests, doling deaths.
So full of yourself, starring into the distorted mirrors reflecting contradictory reality.
So protruding and swollen with the rising heat and monsoons of late summer, twitching in the throws of politics, BidenIng our time and Trumping all bets.
Be gone,  be gone, August–all 31 days of your august presence–just be gone!

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NOTE FROM ELAINE: With her permission, I’m publishing an ode by my sorority sister Beverly (Kappa Delta). She captured my feelings about August – and perhaps yours as well?  Let’s hope that September brings not only beautiful weather but better news. 

Please feel free to comment What are your hopes for September?

Remembering the Past: Adoptee Abroad – Part I

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Note from Elaine: The current pandemic has inspired me to reminisce about “Before Time.” Today I give you, dear readers, a blog post from a little over a year ago. This journey, despite the rocky beginning, was one of the best I’ve ever taken. Like so many others, I look forward to a time when we’re free to travel safely: May it come soon!

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Saturday, April 13: Dawn. My friend Peg and I were embarking on our fourth European adventure in that many years. Months earlier, we’d signed up for a Viking River Cruise to Holland and Belgium. Travel time, at last! Our northern New Mexico weather had been balmy, but a cold front moved in during Friday night. The world was covered in a layer of snow. In a winter wonderland we met and motored to Albuquerque by shuttle. So far, so good. Our plane was delayed, however, and the airport situation looked grim.The only way we could make our first connection was to order a wheelchair. This was legitimate, as I’m still recovering from a spinal fracture, not up to running some 20 gates to try to make the Houston connection. (https://tinyurl.com/y4tputkx) There was another wheelchair passenger, so the plane would wait five or ten minutes for us. Otherwise we would have had to start our European tour belatedly. In other words, it would have been a mess.
Miraculously, we caught the flight to Houston and then on to Amsterdam. Nine hours after leaving Houston, we arrived in Amsterdam and were welcomed on our Viking ship Tir before noon on Sunday the 14th. We settled into our stateroom. Peg went off in search of a maritime museum while I unpacked and strolled around the ship. Just 192 passengers on this journey, a good number. Dinner onboard, early to bed.

Our trip through the Lowlands

Monday, April 15/ AMSTERDAM
A city tour began the day, both walking and canal boating. From Kees, our tall Dutch guide, we learned about the city’s rich past and prosperous present. Passed by the “I” Building, a film center. Kees told us that last year, 1,500 river ships and 100 ocean ships visited Amsterdam. In the 1600s, the Dutch last India trading company reigned supreme. Spices were the main goods. By 1621, there was also a Dutch West Indies branch that traded with Africa and South America. Select merchants and traders grew extremely wealthy.

Tulips outside the Rijksmuseum hint at floral wonders to come

The canals we floated along were part of a former swamp. In today’s Amsterdam, there are 2,500 houseboats. They’ve grown increasingly expensive. What would cost 50,000 euros in the 1960s would now be 1.7 million. We passed by the famous wooden drawbridge (“Skinny Bridge”) and magnificent “city palaces.” Many of the buildings were fronted with symbols of what the dweller within did for a living. For example, a slave trader’s city palace boasted heads on either side of the front door.
The Golden Age of Amsterdam was from 1600-1700. A latter day boom began in the 1970s, when a huge cleaning effort dredged filth from canals and streets. Symbolically, that was when the first Dutch MacDonald’s opened. The cleanup effort continues to this day. Bikes, which are everywhere and being ridden by everyone, end up thrown into canals. Today, around 25,000 have to be dredged out each year.

Canals and waterways abound and are an important part of history

Back on board the ship, Tir, we were treated to an evening of wooden shoemaking. Henk, from Vollandam, carved out a pair of wooden shoes before our wondering eyes. A million and a half pairs are produced yearly, explained Henk, but there are very few wooden shoemakers left. It is painstaking work, not particularly profitable. All the tools involved in the making require special maintenance. The tools themselves are becoming rarer. Hardly any people are attracted to the trade, our shoemaker mused.
As we went from lounge to main deck, a wooden shoe dance was in motion, a most fitting end to the first day of this European get-away.
(To be continued).
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Join Elaine during the next several Mondays for more about the trip of a lifetime. Stay tuned as well for news about the republication of From Calcutta with Love and the debut of The Hand of Ganesh.

Longing for the Library

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There is Before and there is After. The recent past, the “After,” has been close to half a year, but in some ways it seems a lifetime.The Virus has changed our lives in ways that could not have been imagined.

Along with so many of you, I’ve adapted to Pandemic Time and Corona Virus Survival techniques. Walking or hiking every day, reading and more reading, working on the novel-in-progress, gardening, going to Zoom writers gatherings, reading groups, even to YouTube church services: these activities comprise every day, every week, every month.

I’ll admit that I’ve spent more than a little time reminiscing

Sifting through personal archives, I recently came across a bit of whimsey that reminded me of my years as a children’s librarian. The school was Carlos Gilbert Elementary, here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The school had been remodeled right before I was hired, and I was faced with the task of setting up the entire library. My first day on the job, I walked into a 23,000-square-foot room with nothing in it but bookshelves, tables and chairs. Along with help from Americore workers and dozens of parents, I organized a 10,000-volume collection of books that had been in storage. I had adopted the library, and it adopted me. Preparing the library took several months, and then it was time for the young patrons to visit.
Being their librarian was one of the most challenging but also most rewarding jobs of my life. The children, grades K through 6, loved library time and I relished connecting them with books.

Preparation for opening the Carlos Gilbert library took every ounce of my energy and nearly every waking hour. But to this day, I would do it all over again. Patrick Lewis’s poems reflects how I felt about not just “my” library but all libraries:

From Please Bury Me in the Library by J. Patrick Lewis:

Please bury me in the library
In the clean, well-lighted stacks
Of Novels, History, Poetry,
Right next to the Paperbacks,
Where the Kids’ Books dance
With True Romance
And the Dictionary dozes.
Please bury me in the library
With a dozen long-stemmed proses.
Way back by a rack of Magazines,
I won’t be sad too often,
If they bury me in the library
With Bookworms in my coffin.

The Santa Fe Public Library (https://santafelibrary.org), here in my home town, has done a magnificent job of making books available through curbside pickup. Their system notifies patrons by email when reserved books can be picked up— It works quite well. Here’s to those “essential workers,” the librarians. May we soon return to libraries in person!

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Elaine Pinkerton Coleman publishes a monthly blog on topics ranging from adoption, nature, literature, and the writing life. She retired from being librarian in 2005. Currently, she is finishing the first draft of a novel, The Hand of Ganesh and is also working on a memoir. Comments invited.