All Together Now

by Robin L. Flanigan

Robin is an award-winning freelance journalist. You can find her at her blog, The Kinetic Pen. Her story, which looks at adoption, infertility, and some inherent complexities, was anthologized in 2007.

Annalie is sitting across from me, dipping her fingers in yogurt and stacking sliced grapes on top of her grilled cheese sandwich. It’s Mother’s Day. My second one. Done with my meal, I pick up the newspaper and start scanning.

“Adoption.”

I drop the paper.

“What did you say, honey?”

She repeated herself. It sounded the same.

“Did you say adoption?”

She nods.

“Where did you hear that word?”

“The treeses.”

So the trees told her. The trees tell her a lot of things.

I ask her what the trees said.

“Annalie is adopted.”

“Oh,” I say. I nod slowly. “Do you know what that means?”

She stares at me.

“What’s adoption?”

“Um…”

That’s all I can get out. My eyes start to tear up. I don’t want her to notice. Standing up, I tell her I’m going to get her daddy.

“He would love to be here for his, okay? I’ll be right back.”

I turn the corner and blink hard, soaking my cheeks.

Almost two years ago, a friend from college sent me a plastic bottle of holy water from Lourdes for good luck. She’d picked it up from a pilgrimage there, when she traveled with dozens of fiercely Catholic relatives on behalf of her uncle, who was battling lung cancer. After praying for him she prayed for herself, that the Lord would see fit to bless her with twins. She gave birth to two girls nine months later.

My friend told me to bless myself with the water and soon I would be a mother. The bottle, half the size of my palm, looked like a tourist shop trinket. The word “Lourdes” was printed in fancy type above the head of a woman praying to a supersized Virgin Mary. The woman wore a long robe; a cross dangled from a chain encircling her wrist. Short lines representing bursts of light surrounded the Virgin, her hands also folded in prayer.

I spread a towel on the floor and lay down, the square tiles hard against my spine. Feet flat, knees propped together, I twisted off the bottle’s blue cap, hiked up my shirt and watched the cold water drip onto my skin, just below the navel.

Catching my breath, I made a sign of the cross out of the quivering pools on my belly. I’m not Catholic, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

I drag myself down the hallway and find my husband in our bedroom, folding laundry.

“I really need your help with a conversation downstairs.”

Patrick puts his hand on my arm and laughs as he heads for the door. I tell him to wait, that I need to fill him in first.

I’m not finished when he walks out and heads for the bookshelf in Annalie’s room.

“That’s perfect,” I say, realizing what he’s after. “It’s over here.”

I reach inside her crib and grab one of her favorite books, A Blessing from Above, an adoption tale about a kangaroo with an empty pouch.

Back in the dining room, Patrick tousles Annalie’s hair.

“I hear you have a question,” he says.

I join them at the table after turning the volume all the way down on a Leonard Cohen song. Annalie’s not saying anything. It’s really quiet.

“Maybe we’re making too big a deal out of this,” Patrick whispers in my direction.

A few more seconds pass and he gets right to the point.

“So you want to know about adoption?”

There it is. Right there on the table.

He opens the book and flips through the pages showing Mama Roo leaning up against a tree to rest; the baby bluebird falling down, down, down out of its crowded nest and into Mama Roo’s pouch; the two of them hugging and happy.

I say it’s like the story of the day she was born. How she was with Jessica and Peter in the hospital and then came home to live with us.

Annalie taps her palm with her fingers and rubs circles on her cheeks.

“I’m putting on makeup,” she announces.

“Do you understand what adoption is?” I ask.

She scowls and sticks out her hand, as if telling me to halt. She pumps her hand back and forth. I tell her to stop, that it’s a rude gesture.

“I’m pushing you away,” she says. Then, “Why did you adopt me?”

Three pregnancies in one year, all through in vitro fertilization. The first was ectopic, ending when my right fallopian tube burst late one afternoon while I was watching TV. My husband didn’t answer his phone at work so I crawled to the middle of the driveway and waited. Patrick spent that entire night, before the morning’s surgery, trying to sleep in a plastic chair at the foot of my bed.

Doctors knew fairly early on that the second one wasn’t viable either. With an ultrasound showing the possibility that the embryo was stuck in my left fallopian tube this time, they advised being injected with a cancer drug to abort the pregnancy. I returned to the clinic, pulled down my underwear and leaned over an exam table for the shot. Except that it didn’t work. I went back for another round the next week.

The third loss was a blessing. It was over fast.

Soon after the last one I got a call while on vacation from my friend Janet, who had just found out she was pregnant. We’d gone through the same five years of infertility treatments together. That night I had a dream I was at a party. I had finally adopted a little girl. She measured a couple of inches and fit nicely in my hand. At one point in the evening I realized I’d forgotten to change her diaper, which made me feel like an unfit mother. Then a woman appeared and asked if she could hold my daughter. I watched as she took my little one into her hands and promptly dropped her. Suddenly transported outdoors, I searched frantically for my baby among the rocks and weeds. The woman laughed, said she had dropped her own children like that. I wanted to ask everyone at the party to stop their conversations, to help me look. But I kept quiet. My baby was gone and I knew it.

I let her father talk first.

“Jessica knew that we would love you,” he says. “When you were in Jessica’s belly, she searched the whole country for a mommy and daddy who would love you very much. And she chose us.”

“And we waited for you for so long,” I chime in. “We wanted you so much.”

“Why mommy and daddy have no babies?”

Two-year-olds are supposed to ask about the sky and bugs and whether they can jump on the bed just this once.

Images of basal thermometers and needles and pregnancy tests flash through my mind. I have no idea what to say. That miracle cures didn’t work? That medical science couldn’t deliver?

Patrick looks just as stunned. He can’t take his eyes off her.

“That’s deep,” he starts. “Well, there are many answers to that question, and you’ll find new answers every year. But one of them, one that I like, is that sometimes mommies can’t take care of their babies, so somebody else takes care of them. God makes it that way.”

The audience tearfully listened to the photographer explain his images of one dead or dying newborn after another, slowly appearing and fading away in a tangle of breathing tubes and unanswered prayers. In one photograph, a woman cradled her underdeveloped baby in crossed palms. In another, a 10-year-old boy, standing next to his mother, had dumped his head in her lap after being convinced that six hours without a heartbeat is too long to bring back to life the brother he had been holding moments before.

This was bereavement photography. Pictures that document the short time parents have with their doomed children. I was there to watch the pain, to measure it against my own and be reassured that I had not gone through the worst. Not by a long shot. That system of measurement had become an obsession, starting two months earlier when I rented a documentary about a single woman who adopted 13 children with severe disabilities. Weeks later I was at the theater for a double feature: the first film followed a blind Israeli lawn bowler on her trip to the Para-Olympics; the second was about a dwarf, the sole survivor of a family experimented on during the Holocaust by Mengele himself.

At the theater again for this lecture, sniffling with strangers, I tried to persuade myself to be thankful my husband and I lost our babies before they beared any resemblance to the smallest child up on that screen. But our own grainy photographs from the hospital flashed through my mind, images of the embryos before they were implanted, proof that I was a mother three times over if only for a couple of weeks.

I kept expecting all of this other suffering, all of this greater suffering, to ease my own. To make my struggle less valid. I had a good life.

But I needed more than one tissue when the photographs stopped shuffling, when the screen was blank and the theater was black and the audience was given a minute to recover in silence.

I’d thought starting the adoption process meant the healing had officially begun, but no crust was forming on my wounds. Some women, even those who had happily adopted, said that the sense of loss never goes away. Decades later it can smack you upside the head when you least expect it. Like when a baby shower invitation comes in the mail or you hear a co-worker gush over the birth of his first grandchild.

Decades.

The dull lights overhead had begun to flicker and I couldn’t even deal with that.

Annalie points to a vase of flowers on a Mexican cabinet behind me.

“Are those good flowers or bad flowers?”

I look at the bouquet. We tell her they’re good.

Next, she points to the Christmas cactus in the middle of the table and says she wants to bring it over to the good flowers.

Patrick unbuckles her booster seat. She hops to the floor, rounds the table and asks me to get up so she can use my chair to get the plant. I rise and she kneels on the seat cushion to reach the cactus.

She extends her arms toward me.

“Can you hold this while I get down?”

I set the plant on the cabinet.

“Is this how you want it?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

Annalie looks at the tall crystal vase and the short terra-cotta pot beside it.

Then, with authority, she makes her pronouncement.

“Adopted.”

I look at my husband, mouth agape, and silently give thanks that our daughter is making sense of her world.

She feels safe and protected and loved.

She belongs.

And so do we.

How Kate Helps Out

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the fourth and final installment. Part one is found here, part two is here, and part three is here.

We asked Kate to detail her volunteer and paid work in the field of adoption, and she kindly complied.

by Kate Donovan Hodgkins

One thing I’d like to mention is that I could not do ANY of the work I do in the adoption field if it weren’t for  the support and encouragement I get from my husband Tom and my children, Chase, Joshua, and Amilya.  They are the reason I do this. They make my life complete, and my happiness endless.

Connecticut Adoption and Family Services (CT-AFS, formally CARA)

After having our home study done by CT-AFS (formally CARA), I volunteered my graphic design experience and helped redesign their business cards and brochure. I worked with clients of theirs to help them design their profile/birthmother letters.  This led to my speaking at their informational sessions and on their PRIDE class panels on a volunteer basis, as well as being a mentor for their clients.

The Director of CT-AFS asked if I’d consider being a respite/foster mother for newborns which paid a stipend.  Other agencies that didn’t have a foster mother also placed newborns with me through CT-AFS, and I was a DCF sanctioned respite for the newborns of a member of my support group.  Most came to us right out of the hospital and many were premature babies.    The newborns were with us for up to five weeks. I have recently given up this position to enable me to spend more time with my children this summer.

I did find it was a great way for my children to gain an understanding of what adoption is and how special it is.  Often I would be involved with the birthmother, which ranged from meeting her at the hospital to having her to my home to visit her child. Often the adoptive parents would have visits with the babies while in my care. On several occasions, I was honored to be able to place the child in their arms for the first time.  My own children were present at times and saw how a new family was made and how emotional and special this was.

Only once did any of my children feel sad when a baby was leaving us. My oldest son was particularly fond of one newborn we cared for, and the day we brought the baby to meet his forever family, Chase didn’t want to say goodbye.  We sat and talked about it, and he eventually decided that he did want to say goodbye and the adoptive family graciously let him hold the little one and say his goodbye.  He told me on the ride home that he was glad he changed his mind because he was happy when he saw how happy the family was to have their new son.

I was called with no notice to take a newborn baby girl several years ago.  The birthmother was a young girl who was unsure if she wanted to place her daughter.  I invited her and her mother to my home to spend the day with our family and see what a family by adoption was like.  On a nice summer day her mother and I sat with her on our back deck watching my children play and we talked for hours.  At the end of the day she tearfully told me that my family had made her see how much better a life her daughter could have if she chose adoption for her.  And her biggest realization was that in a family by adoption there are no real differences.

In 2012 the Director of CT-AFS asked if I would be interested in being a co-instructor for their PRIDE classes for state adoption, which also paid a stipend.  They have now merged with Waterford Country School which does therapeutic state adoption and in the fall I will begin teaching the PRIDE Classes and have begun speaking on Waterford Country Schools PRIDE class panels on a volunteer basis.

In 2009, I was awarded the Joseph and Barbara Sheffey Award for my work in the adoption field.  This is an award given by CT-AFS each year to someone who has worked to help further adoption through their agency.  It is made even more special to me because Joseph Sheffey was the Director of CT-AFS (then CARA). He was very helpful and supportive of us when we started our adoption journey.

Sandra, the Director of CT-AFS, has been my main source of information when something comes up in my support group that I do not know the answer to.  She has done research for me and helped me many times over the years.

Kate’s Online Adoption Support Group

It was during our wait to adopt that I started my first adoption support group via email with four women I had met on adoption forums online.  We became each other’s support systems and lifelong friends.  Since I was a stay-at-home mom when Chase came to us, I decided to start up another support group and use my experience and that of the others in my first group.  CT-AFS advertises my group in their newsletter and their social workers help spreading the word about my group has helped keep my groups going over the years.  Now ten years later “Kate’s Online Adoption Support Group” has over 30 families currently and is run using Yahoo Groups.

It is so gratifying to be part of my members’ adoption journeys and to know I had a small hand in forming new families by adoption.  I have gotten to meet so many of the children and been able to watch them grow and, in some cases, to watch the families continue to grow through adoption.  I have several families who have adopted that stay in the group to offer their invaluable experience to the members.  We have several get-togethers a year, and there have been some great friendships formed.  As our next get-together is rapidly approaching, my family and I are looking forward to seeing all the families and their children.  We love opening our home to give everyone an opportunity to connect in person with the people who have given them support and strength through their journey.  It is a wonderful feeling to watch these children play with mine and know I had a small hand in getting their families started.

CAFAP (CT Association for Adoptive Parents) and Hearts, Hands and Homes

A wonderful woman, Alana, who worked for CAFAP and now for HH&H, introduced me to a program they have which supplies clothing to foster and adoptive families at no cost.  I now help by opening “Karen’s Kloset” several times a year. I help keep the facility stocked by soliciting donations and sorting the clothes as well as spreading the word to foster and adoptive families through my support group.

Board of Directors

I have served on the Board of Directors for several adoption agencies over the past 10 years and would like to think that I have contributed ideas and helped further the growth of adoption through this.

One of the agencies, A Little Bit of Heaven, is run by a very special woman, Betty Smith.  Betty and I met over 10 years ago when we were both starting the process to adopt.  We shared the ups and downs as we both went on to adopt three children and formed a lifelong friendship.  The reason I accepted a position on her Board of Directors when she opened her referral/adoption agency was because I knew she was entering the business for all the correct reasons.  She wanted to make the dream of being parents a reality for others.  Betty has also been a wonderful source of information for me to help answer questions that come up in my support group.

Kate’s Story: The Interview

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the third installment. Part one is found here and part two is here.

Luanne’s interview of Kate Donovan Hodgkins

*What kind of goals regarding children did you enter adulthood with?

I had thought about adoption before meeting my husband, Since my husband’s brother was adopted, he was very open to the idea of adoption.  Our plan was to adopt a child and then have a biological child.  Ultimately, we wanted two children.

Shortly after Chase’s adoption was finalized, we learned that I was unable to conceive or carry a baby because of uterine cysts. Having adopted once already and not being able to imagine loving a child any more than I did my son, I did not have any issues with not having a birth experience. 

*How did you first get started on the path to fostering children?

While waiting to adopt a second time, we decided to do respite care to see how it would be with more than one child in the house. After doing respite care several times, our son came to us and we stopped.   Later, I was approached by the director of a local adoption agency I had done volunteer work for over the years and asked if I’d consider doing respite and foster care for newborns being adopted domestically.  We’ve had babies with us anywhere from one to five weeks. 

*When did you first get licensed for foster care? What did you go through to get licensed?  Do you have to reapply, and if so, what is the process like?

We had been licensed for our second adoption and we just had to update it to foster/respite.  We had already done the PRIDE classes required by our state, so we did not have to do any additional training other than for medically complex and CPR for children and infants.  It was not a difficult or invasive process at all.

*How did you choose whether to adopt from foster care, a local adoption, or an international adoption?

We started off looking into adopting through our state and also from Romania, but while we were researching our options we found the state route was less likely to be a newborn and we did want a baby.  Then Romania closed their doors to US adoptions and being concerned that this could happen again if we went international, we decided to adopted in the US through private domestic adoption.  At this time, several countries were increasing the amount of travel needed to adopt and we felt that it would be less travel and expense to adopt in the US. 

For our second adoption, we decided to look into state adoption again.  We were happy having had the newborn experience and were open to adopting an older child.  We hoped that we’d be able to adopt a child younger than our son, but we were open to a child up to three years old. 

*What has surprised you about your children?

Perhaps the fact that I could not love my children more than I do had I given birth to them.  I think many people going into adoption question if they will bond and love a child as much as they would a biological child. 

*What would you like to see changed in the system?

From a mother’s point of view there are things that I wish my son hadn’t  had to go through, such as visitation with his birth parent, but I also understand why the state tries for reunification.   I would like to see a better system for visitations that is less stressful for the children.  

*What qualifications do you think it takes to be a foster or adoptive parent?

Patience, patience, patience!  With foster parenting, it is often necessary to adjust your parenting style for the needs of each child and that takes patience, understanding and flexibility.  I’ve heard it said many times that all you need is “love,” but that is not always enough.  Many children in the foster system need much more than just love, and although my state strives to provide the necessary training, more training is needed, in my opinion.

*Do you have resources that help you?  What are they?

We have found various agencies over the years that have helped us in many ways.  We’ve used Birth to Three, Building Blocks, IICAPS, Care Coordination, UConn Health Adoption services, as well as therapists and other clinical help.  But the one thing that seems to be our best resource is other adoptive parents.   Talking with others who have gone through or are going through what you are going through is key to helping you feel you’re not alone in some of the struggles that arise.  We’ve used many of the local agencies that provide help for children of adoption and have found most to be very beneficial. 

*If you are or were a foster parent, do you continue a relationship with the children after they leave your care?

We are very fortunate to have several families that keep in touch with us, and we love to see the children grow up.  This past Thanksgiving we had a visit from a family that adopted a little boy that we fostered right out of the hospital, and we see several at a yearly picnic we attend.  We get email and pictures. We all get so excited to see how they are growing. 

*Do you have a little story about your children you would like to share?

Chase with his birthmom

Chase with his birthmom

When Chase was about one year old I started telling him the “story of his adoption” at bedtime.  This became a nightly ritual, and there was no way he would let me rush through or leave anything out.  He would be quick to correct me and tell me what I omitted.  He started asking at night for us to tell him his “doption story,” so we dropped the A in adoption and began calling it his doption story.  When Joshua joined our family, Chase insisted that we tell Joshua his own doption story nightly and this began to get rather lengthy at bedtime when our daughter joined us.   We explained that we would have to alternate their stories, and this continued for many years.  It was a way for us to tell our children about their adoptions starting at a young age and giving them a gradual understanding of what it meant to be adopted. 

Recently my niece gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, and my daughter started asking many questions.  As we explained to her that Josey was not adopted, Amilya’s reply was a sad, “she won’t have a doption story.”  It seemed to sadden her until we explained that she would just have a different type of story that her mommy and daddy could tell her at night.  She was satisfied with that answer thankfully.

*What bothers you the most about the situation your children have been put in?

It bothers me most that my daughter has medical issues that were caused by her birthmother’s lack of prenatal care and drug use, which caused her to be born three months premature.  With each new diagnosis, I found I would have anger directed at her birthmother. 

*Have you volunteered or worked with any agencies for foster children or adoptions?  What did you do? What were your reasons for doing so? Do you feel you made a difference, and if so, how?

Over the past 10 years I have volunteered by speaking on a panel for state adoptions both for DCF and for local agencies, CT-AFS and Waterford Country School.  I have also spoken at the CT-AFS informational sessions.  I have run online adoption support groups for over ten years for those just starting or in various stages of all types of adoption country-wide.  We currently have 33 families in our support group, and we meet in person several times per year.  I have volunteered for CAFAP and currently volunteer for Hearts, Hands and Homes by opening their clothing closet for foster and adoptive families to get clothing at no cost and to solicit and take in donations. 

*What do you want the general population to know about adoptees?

Adopted children are “forever” children; they are not disposable.   Adopting is as much a commitment as giving birth to a child.  

*What do you want the general population to know about the foster system and the adoption system?

Neither the foster or adoption systems are perfect, but I’ve found many of the people in this field are very dedicated to the children. They have a very difficult job at times. 

*Has your experience with fostering and adoption affected your politics?  In other words, is it a topic you watch for during election season?

Absolutely.   Most recently in our state, the adoption tax credit was the hot topic.  Many families that want to adopt cannot afford the costs of adoption or the added cost if the child is medically complex or has therapeutic needs.  This tax credit can make a difference in the amount of children that get placed as families are more able to adopt with the help of this tax credit. 

* Have your religious beliefs been a big part of you becoming an adoptive parent?  If not, what do you think motivates you?

For me the motivation to volunteer and work in the adoption field was born from frustration.  I didn’t have much knowledge or help during our first adoption and started a support group online to help me connect with others going through the same things.  I continue my work in the adoption field to help others in hopes of lessening their frustration some by connecting with others who have gone through the same frustrations and can lend their experience. 

*What else would you like to say about your experience?

The road to adoption through domestic adoption and through state foster to adopt was very bumpy with many ups and downs along the way. However, I would do it all again in a heartbeat to have my children.  It is an emotional journey and it can have the most wonderful outcome.

Adoption and Parenting: Musing / Thruout

[Every Friday for the first two months of 2013, DWLA will feature a story from Barbara Shipka’s blog about her personal experiences with adoption and parenting.  We will sample a story from each of eight categories: 1) Before; 2) In Peru; 3) We’re Home; 4) 2 – 6 years old; 5) 6 – 12 years old; 6) 12 – 18 years old; 7) 18 + years old; 8) Musing / Thruout.  Barbara’s son Michael’s video was showcased in Gifts to the World.]

The Village in Peru

Lamasby Barbara Shipka

When we were in Peru and while the judges were on strike, I had this ‘brilliant’ idea that the two of us could take a trip to San Martin, the province where Michael’s tribe lived. It’s on the east side of the high Andes, on the way to the Amazon basin. It’s jungle called ‘The Cloud Forest.’

However, I learned that it was forbidden for Michael to leave the confines of Lima. And, even before I learned this detail, given the activity of the Sendaro Luminoso (The Shining Path) and coca trafficking in that area, even if we could go, it was very strongly discouraged.

I wanted to be able to tell him about his heritage. I could find almost nothing in LIma…except a map that showed his province. (Of course, today his village has a website!)

~~~~~~

When Michael was about twelve we took a winter vacation to Santa Fe to visit friends who live there.

One night several people joined us for dinner. As the conversation unfolded we learned that one of the people had actually been to Michael’s village! She had been on a two-week journey to that part of Peru as part of her shamanic training.

The next day we went to visit her. We spent time looking at all of the photos she had taken while she was in the region where his village is. And we paid special attention when she showed us photos of Michael’s village. She had gone there to visit and learn from the village shamans.

Then, as we were about to leave, she gave Michael several of her photos. What a gift!

~~~~~~

Will he go back someday? We don’t know. The thinking he shares with me is about knowing it’s a small village. Everyone knows everyone else. What would be the impact on his birth mother? Did she ever even return to the village? What if a visit exposed her history unfavorably? What would he really gain?

The real territory of pain for him is in not having…or ever being able to have…ANY information about who his father is/was.

[Photos gift of visitor, collage set on photo of the surrounding cloud forest, San Martin, Peru, 1999]

###

Barbara is a single mom and was in her mid-forties when she adopted her son, Michael.  He was 10 weeks old at the time. Together, they spent many months navigating through the rather overwhelming legal processes for adoption in Peru.  Today, as a junior at the University of Minnesota, Michael is majoring in Native American Studies.

For much of her career, Barbara has been an executive leadership coach and organization effective consultant for Fortune 500 companies.  Another part of her career has been working in education and with non-governmental organizations in Europe, The Middle East, Africa, and The Caribbean.  Over the last twenty years, in addition to becoming a mother, she has also become an author and artist.  You can learn more at http://www.barbarashipka.com

These blog posts are snapshots from Barbara’s collection of stories about her experiences of their life together from March 1991 to today.  Visit her blog, Adoption and Parenting, to read more of her stories.  When you arrive, click on “Label” under “Home” where you see the tabs Recent…Date…LABEL…Author.  This will rearrange the stories into 8 categories:

Categories via 'Label'

Adoption and Parenting: 18+ years old

[Every Friday for the first two months of 2013, DWLA will feature a story from Barbara Shipka’s blog about her personal experiences with adoption and parenting.  We will sample a story from each of eight categories: 1) Before; 2) In Peru; 3) We’re Home; 4) 2 – 6 years old; 5) 6 – 12 years old; 6) 12 – 18 years old; 7) 18 + years old; 8) Musing / Thruout.  Barbara’s son Michael’s video was showcased in Gifts to the World.]

Thx! Luv, M.

full moonby Barbara Shipka

It rained all day yesterday (Saturday) and was completely cloudy into the evening. Past sunset. So I didn’t even consider trying to see the Biggest Full Moon of the year.

Around 9 pm my son, Michael, and one of his friends decided to go see ‘The Avengers’ (which I just learned had the largest opening weekend box office $$ take ever).

About five minutes after he left, he sent the following text: “Big Moon out right now!”

How very sweet and thoughtful! A recognition and affirmation of my interests.

I sent a text back: “Thx! Luv, M.” Immediately after that, I grabbed my camera and went outside.

Not my best photo, for sure. But I love it as a reminder of how such a sweet moment is shared…Michael, the Moon, me. It seems that the clouds decided to part for us/me and our/my desire to see the Big Moon.

Shortly after that, the clouds returned…until now. It’s Sunday evening now and the sun has just emerged for the first time in a couple of days.

BTW, Michael thought the movie was ‘epic.’

I thought the moon was ‘epic.’

Lovely when Life offers us such sweet and effortless experiences of win/win!

[Photo by Barbara, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 5, 2012]

###

Barbara is a single mom and was in her mid-forties when she adopted her son, Michael.  He was 10 weeks old at the time. Together, they spent many months navigating through the rather overwhelming legal processes for adoption in Peru.  Today, as a junior at the University of Minnesota, Michael is majoring in Native American Studies.

For much of her career, Barbara has been an executive leadership coach and organization effective consultant for Fortune 500 companies.  Another part of her career has been working in education and with non-governmental organizations in Europe, The Middle East, Africa, and The Caribbean.  Over the last twenty years, in addition to becoming a mother, she has also become an author and artist.  You can learn more at http://www.barbarashipka.com

These blog posts are snapshots from Barbara’s collection of stories about her experiences of their life together from March 1991 to today.  Visit her blog, Adoption and Parenting, to read more of her stories.  When you arrive, click on “Label” under “Home” where you see the tabs Recent…Date…LABEL…Author.  This will rearrange the stories into 8 categories:

Categories via 'Label'

Adoption and Parenting: 12 – 18 years old

[Every Friday for the first two months of 2013, DWLA will feature a story from Barbara Shipka’s blog about her personal experiences with adoption and parenting.  We will sample a story from each of eight categories: 1) Before; 2) In Peru; 3) We’re Home; 4) 2 – 6 years old; 5) 6 – 12 years old; 6) 12 – 18 years old; 7) 18 + years old; 8) Musing / Thruout.  Barbara’s son Michael’s video was showcased in Gifts to the World.]

Which Box to Check?

Marching Band2

by Barbara Shipka

his·pan·ic/hiˈspanik/
— adjective: relating to, characteristic of, or derived from Spain or Spanish-speaking countries
— noun: ( US ) a person of Latin-American or Spanish descent living in the US
usage: This is the word most generally used in the US to refer to people of Latin American or Spanish ancestry — from the World English Dictionary

Somehow, for me, that definition doesn’t seem to fit very well for someone who is really Native American… But the US government has no category for Native Americans born in South America.

My son is from a small intact tribe of people who have lived in the Cloud Forest on the east (Amazon) side of the Andes for at least 500 years. Their tribal language is still their first language. More…

He doesn’t speak Spanish. Tried studying it but hated it! (Any connection to it being the language of the oppressor? Mom wonders…) He switched to Japanese and loved it…including a high school summer in Japan.

All through school we struggled with which box to check…

____ Hispanic

____ Native American

____ Other

None really fit.

But, he’s decided to let it go. These days he checks Hispanic…

[Photo by Barbara, High School Marching Band, Minneapolis, 2008]

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Barbara is a single mom and was in her mid-forties when she adopted her son, Michael.  He was 10 weeks old at the time. Together, they spent many months navigating through the rather overwhelming legal processes for adoption in Peru.  Today, as a junior at the University of Minnesota, Michael is majoring in Native American Studies.

For much of her career, Barbara has been an executive leadership coach and organization effective consultant for Fortune 500 companies.  Another part of her career has been working in education and with non-governmental organizations in Europe, The Middle East, Africa, and The Caribbean.  Over the last twenty years, in addition to becoming a mother, she has also become an author and artist.  You can learn more at http://www.barbarashipka.com

These blog posts are snapshots from Barbara’s collection of stories about her experiences of their life together from March 1991 to today.  Visit her blog, Adoption and Parenting, to read more of her stories.  When you arrive, click on “Label” under “Home” where you see the tabs Recent…Date…LABEL…Author.  This will rearrange the stories into 8 categories:

Categories via 'Label'

Adoption and Parenting: 6 – 12 years old

[Every Friday for the first two months of 2013, DWLA will feature a story from Barbara Shipka’s blog about her personal experiences with adoption and parenting.  We will sample a story from each of eight categories: 1) Before; 2) In Peru; 3) We’re Home; 4) 2 – 6 years old; 5) 6 – 12 years old; 6) 12 – 18 years old; 7) 18 + years old; 8) Musing / Thruout.  Barbara’s son Michael’s video was showcased in Gifts to the World.]

Appreciating Magnificence

big horn sheep3

by Barbara Shipka

We had been on a winter road trip and had just left Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where we spent Christmas 2001. We even found arestaurant that served both rack of lamb and pizza for Christmas Eve dinner!

Now we were heading east and south toward home. It was a beautiful blue-sky day with the sun shining on the new snow that had fallen during the night. Windless…several inches of snow sat atop fence posts and the occasional mailbox.
I was breathless in awe at the rugged, articulated beauty of these mountains! Perhaps the most spectacular I had ever seen!

As we drove along, I wanted to share recognition of this abundant beauty with Michael. He was about 10 at the time. He sat in the backseat, occupying himself listening to The Chronicles of Narnia on tape and reading along. As a result, he wasn’t looking out the window so I asked him to pause the tape and said, “Michael! Just look at how incredibly beautiful these mountains are.”

His response? “Mom, we have been looking at mountains every day since we left home! You know what I think? These mountains are just more rocks with snow on them!”

Wow! That these glorious giants might be seen as “just more rocks with snow on them” had NEVER occurred to me…

I mused for some time after that. I wondered what brings me to having experiences of some physical places which are so compelling that I am moved emotionally by their magnificence. And I wondered whether there was something I could/should do to bring Michael to a “place” of appreciation.

This led me to reflecting on how often during this trip he had shown appreciation. For example, there was the farm we visited where he named the sheep the “Baa-Baa Crew,” the early morning sun, the mist and the flocks of birds over The Great Salt Lake, the mountain goat we stopped to watch as he stood right on the road, the bison grazing in the Black Hills…and I noticed his theme of animals. He was so appreciative in these situations, in fact, that each time he didn’t want to leave. I also reflected on how much he loves our dog, Bibi, and how well he had taken care of her throughout this trip. All of these years later, we are fortunate that Bibi is still a member of our family! (Addenda: Bibi left us at 17 years old on Sunday, March 27, 2011.)

So…I finished my musing with appreciation for Michael in general and, in specific, I was appreciating that he was able to accurately give me a glimpse into his honest experience at that moment. I was also appreciating that we are different and that we see the world in different ways. Magnificent!

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder!

[Photo by Barbara, Big Horn Sheep, Banff, Alberta, 2011]

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Barbara is a single mom and was in her mid-forties when she adopted her son, Michael.  He was 10 weeks old at the time. Together, they spent many months navigating through the rather overwhelming legal processes for adoption in Peru.  Today, as a junior at the University of Minnesota, Michael is majoring in Native American Studies.

For much of her career, Barbara has been an executive leadership coach and organization effective consultant for Fortune 500 companies.  Another part of her career has been working in education and with non-governmental organizations in Europe, The Middle East, Africa, and The Caribbean.  Over the last twenty years, in addition to becoming a mother, she has also become an author and artist.  You can learn more at http://www.barbarashipka.com

These blog posts are snapshots from Barbara’s collection of stories about her experiences of their life together from March 1991 to today.  Visit her blog, Adoption and Parenting, to read more of her stories.  When you arrive, click on “Label” under “Home” where you see the tabs Recent…Date…LABEL…Author.  This will rearrange the stories into 8 categories:

Categories via 'Label'

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