Boy Scouts did What this Mom Couldn’t

May 18 2014 056A 30 mile bike ride with nary a whine. Just an I Made It! text. And where was I? 10 minutes behind the Scout, my butt and legs hurting.

Our ride started at Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis, the meeting place of Boy Scout Troop 110, and ended at Carver Park Reserve.

It didn’t take me long to realize how out of shape I was. Before leaving the parking lot, I tipped over. I couldn’t get my foot out of my clipless foot clamp. Lying on the ground, I looked up at Antonio while other Scout leaders rushed to help me. His face was expressionless, a look that he’s mastering.

“Perhaps, I’d better ride around the parking lot a few times before riding out,” I said.

Antonio’s daily bike riding had him in good shape for this challenge. Still, it was 10 miles before I saw his first smile. Antonio and another Scout had found the electronics table at the Depot Coffee House in Hopkins, our first rest stop. I didn’t chide Antonio to join the other scouts outside. I could see that this was a boy bonding moment and his way into this Boy Scout Troop. Instead, I snapped a picture, left a bottle of Gatorade and chocolate chip cookie on the Playstation.

Before leaving for our next ten miles, he said, “I think I’m going to like this Troop.”

May 18 2014 057At the 20 mile mark, he shocked me with two hugs. This could have been because we were at Adele’s Frozen Custard in Excelsior and in a moment he would ask for gummy worms and sprinkles . . . or maybe he was overwhelmed with love for his mom. Either way, I was shocked when his rock hard arms came around me and squeezed.

I had been giving him space on the ride, staying closer to the back of our herd of 16 bikers. I didn’t want to crowd him as he found his way into the pack.

Sometimes it’s only in a gathering like this that I get a glimpse of Antonio or Crystel as the ‘different’ ones. They are such a part of me that I don’t see any differences between us. In this group, Antonio was the only person of color. Meaning that in this group I was his white mom.

I wanted Antonio to choose how to ‘come out’ in this group that he was adopted. After all, it’s his group.

I’ve watched Antonio step between the world of Hispanics and the world of whites with ease. In this gathering he was the only Hispanic, even though at school his very best friends are Hispanic and white. (Thank you, Richfield Dual Language School!)

Troop 110 found a way around

Troop 110 found a way around

Six years ago, in kindergarten on his way home from school he whined, “Why do I have to learn Spanish?” Perhaps, he saw himself such a part of Jody and me that he didn’t see his difference. I paused thinking ‘Shock alert here’ then answered, “Because you’re Guatemalan, dude.”

At Carver Park Reserve, I texted Jody and told her that I had arrived. Antonio would be camping overnight with the Scouts while I headed for home.

This was another nice surprise: Antonio camping with the Boy Scouts by himself. I had told him in Cub Scouts that if he needed me to I would camp with him until he was 18. Perhaps he is writing his own book, LIFE WITHOUT MOM.

Except his book is LIFE WITHOUT TWO MOMS.

Carver Park Reserve

Carver Park Reserve

I wasn’t sure that Antonio was ‘out’ yet to this Boy Scout Troop that he had two moms. I’m sensitive that he and Crystel are allowed to be visible in their own timing and in their own way. I wrote a blog post about this July 26, 2012 titled Truth Telling.

I had already checked with the Scoutmaster (in private) about how the Troop felt about Antonio having two moms. “Everyone is welcomed.”

Since Jody and I weren’t sure if Antonio had come out to this Boy Scout Troop, we gave him separate quiet goodbyes.

The next morning at 7:40 a.m., I received a text from Antonio: When do you pick me up?

The Boy Scout

The Boy Scout

I couldn’t read between the lines–did he have a good time? Didn’t he have a good time? Would he be adamant about never returning to Scouts?

I texted back the time and then asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how did it go?”

He answered, 10!

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“Whose belly did I come out of?”

dsc00095[1]July, 2013. My cell phone rang. I stepped out of the dining hall at Tomahawk Scout Reservation, in Northwestern Wisconsin, wove through dozens of 10-year old Cub Scouts to reach the flagpole. “Hold on, hold on,” I said to the caller. I looked up to the sky hoping that a satellite would keep us connected. Jerod Santek from the Loft Literary Center was on the other end saying that I had won the 2013-2014 Loft Mentor Series for Nonfiction. “Can you hear me?” he said. I could. But after submitting to the competition for over ten years and being a finalist four times, I didn’t know what to say.

Friday, April 18th, at 7 p.m. I will read an excerpt from my memoir, HEALING FIRES.

“Whose belly did I come out of?” five-year old Crystel asks. “Yours or Mama Joey’s?” Milk spills from her spoon into her cereal bowl.

Thirty years of breaking free from the cycle of violence and discovering my true self prepare me to start my adoptive family. The challenge of creating a home of love, safety, and joy is tested by dysfunctional ghosts and dark memories from the Wisconsin farm where I was raised.

It’s the culmination of my work with mentors Mark Anthony Rolo as well as my work with Loft Literary Center instructor Mary Carroll Moore.

Also reading is Jerald Walker and my fellow mentee Pamela Schmid.imagesGECE7253

Mark Anthony is an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. His memoir MY MOTHER IS NOW EARTH won the 2012 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award and was nominated for a 2012 Minnesota Book Award.

When I opened Mark Anthony’s book and read his first lines, “My mother wants to be buried in fire. She races into a burning farmhouse, letting serpent flames twist around her legs,”my mouth fell open. I had submitted a writing sample that started with these words, “I’m on fire. I scream. I run. Flames chase me. I fall to the grass, slapping at my shoulders, my back, my side. Digging my shoulders into the ground, I pitch back and forth, back and forth. The fire follows.”

Under Mark Anthony’s tutelage, I have restructured my memoir to merge my past and present story just as spring water runoff flows to creeks and further downstream joins the river and finally the ocean that embodies us all.

Jerald Walker’s STREET SHADOWS: A MEMOIR OF RACE, REBELLION, AND REDEMPTION was also very influential. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Jerald is a recipient of the 2011 PEN New England/L.L.Winship Award for Nonfiction and his book was named a Best Memoir of the Year by Kirkus Reviews.

When I read Jerald Walker’s memoir, I finally understood how I could meld past and present together in my memoir. I studied his structure, counting the number of pages he used for his present story and then his past. I attempted to locate where he brought them both together. All the while, I resonated with his efforts to rise above the circumstances that he was born into.

7ac30fe0b702dd387b1f0ab4fcd06c36[1]Pamela is the creative nonfiction editor for Sleet magazine. Before receiving her M.F.A. degree from Hamline University, she spent more than a decade reporting and editing for the Star Tribune and the Associated Press.

Pamela says this about her memoir, “In MY BIG BOOK OF YEARNING, I chronicle my son’s arduous journey to speech and reflect on the way words empower and ensnare. I also try to untangle the threads of silence that took root in my family generations earlier, before giving rise to this little boy who desperately wanted to speak but could not.

”Pamela will be reading an excerpt that explores Eli’s fascination with music, and the way music can bridge the gap to speech. “When I sang, I became somebody else, someone more certain and sure. When it was just Eli and I and the songs, I felt the scales of a dragon on my back.”

Please mark your calendars for April 18th at 7 p.m.

Join Jerald, Pamela, and me as we read to you from our memoirs.

Loft Literary Center

1011 Washington Ave. S

Minneapolis, MN 55415

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genetics or Childrearing?

At some point all adoptive parents ask themselves this question. Maybe biological families do as well, but I wouldn’t know about that. What I do know is that Crystel sings, not only in the shower but in her bedroom, in the living room, on her way to the bus and … you get my snowdrift … she is warm to the idea of singing anywhere. On the other hand, you don’t hear a peep out of me.

Tia Anna sharing her joy of music with Crystel. Crystel started lessons at 7 and took them for about 4 years.

Tia Anna sharing her joy of music with Crystel. Crystel started lessons at 7 and took them for about 4 years.

Now, is this because I don’t have the talent, or is it because singing wasn’t nurtured growing up in my family of 14? “You could have had your own softball team,” people would say. Well, we could have had a pretty darn good choir, too. Well … maybe not.

I did belong to a choir in middle school, mostly because my best friend joined and harangued me into joining with her. My group of friends thought it was funny to stop the entire choir from making any noise while I was doing my solo to see where I would fit in the choir. The choir director noticed the quiet and admonished them. Guess what? I’m an alto.

Antonio and Crystel have taken piano and drum lessons. Crystel is looking forward to learning flute in middle school. I was in band as well. First cornet and then French horn … you guessed it … right next to my best friend. The band teacher couldn’t hold himself back once and called me “cabbage ears.”

Antonio giving a recital. He took piano lessons for one year and drum lessons for one year.

Antonio giving a recital. He took piano lessons for one year and drum lessons for one year.

Though I enjoyed playing the French horn, he also told me, “Don’t worry about playing, just march and try to keep in step with everybody else.”

Genetics or childrearing?

Antonio is an artist. He can look at a picture of a Pokemon and sketch it exactly. He’s been doing this for years. I used to ask him if he traced the Pokemon. I knew he didn’t—I watched him as he drew it. For the past few years he has been taking requests for drawings from his classmates.

“I stole a drawing in seventh grade once,” I told him. “It didn’t have a name on it and so I put on mine and handed it in as my own.”

“What happened?” he asked.

“The art teacher said I stole the persons sketch who was the best artist in the entire class. Funny thing, I was trying to take the one that I thought could pass as mine. The scary thing was that the drawing belonged to the sheriff’s kid and I didn’t know it at the time. I had to find him in school and apologize.”

To this day, I hate Pictionary. I can’t even draw an accurate stick person.

Genetics or childrearing?

995931_10200718761105581_953653948_n[1]Perhaps it is a little of both. Jody and I encourage Crystel to sing unless it’s bedtime. Antonio hits his sketchpad when his allotment of electronics time is used up. Already, he says that he wants to be an artist and I’m helping him to understand that could mean many professions: architecture, theatre backdrops, book illustrator, and so on.

Whether its genetics or childrearing, it is great to watch something so foreign sprouting in our house.

A week when everyone looks like you

La Semana 2010 Crystel 8 years old

La Semana 2010 Crystel 8 years old

I know even before I get to the high school for the fiesta that I am going to cry at some point during the evening. Antonio and Crystel have been attending La Semana Cultural Camp for a week every summer since they were in first grade. Now fifth graders, they are going to join 450 other children born in over 20 different countries and perform the Latin American dance that they had learned during the week. There would be 25 dances, put on by everyone from first graders to Ayudantes (adoptees who recently graduated high school).  Except when we travel in Guatemala, Latin American Cultural Camp is the only place that I could lose Antonio and Crystel in a crowd. . .  because here everyone looks like them.

Antonio and amigo 2013

Antonio and amigo 2013

If this is my experience as an adult, imagine what it would be for a child to be surrounded by his or her own ethnic origin if only for one week a year. To top that off, all the children are adopted. For the first time, a child doesn’t have to explain him or herself to a new friend. There are no questions. Everyone is adopted.

Families travel from 14 different states and Canada to attend La Semana. The adoptees learn Latin American crafts and dances, try Latin American foods, hear Latin American music, and are exposed to written and spoken Spanish. The children also take a class that focuses on age-appropriate topics related to adoption. Most importantly, they just get to be kids with other kids like them.

Crystel and friends up to no good. 2013

Crystel and friends up to no good. 2013

Every year, La Semana, focuses on a country. This year it is Paraguay. Throughout the week, campers explore the culture of Paraguay. Through video and games they get an overview of Paraguay’s food, music, geography, sports teams and animals. At a Paraguayan market and fiesta, campers taste food and drink, create with beads and clay, and play traditional holiday games.

Jody has been at La Semana all week volunteering her time in the craft department. La Semana is successful due to the volunteer efforts of the families of children attending camp. All camp programs are planned and executed by the families involved. There are fewer than seven paid teachers for more than 450 campers. To encourage participation, La Semana requires a parent of kindergarten through tenth grade campers to volunteer in some capacity.

Chicas

Chicas

Jody is already inside Lakeville High School having saved our seat hours ago for the fiesta in the gymnasium. Tears start welling up in my eyes as I see parents streaming through the school entrance holding hands with their young children. The fiesta is a time for the campers to show off their ‘stuff.’ Inside the dressing room, they will be transformed as they put on traditional dress, and the girls adorn themselves with red lipstick, blue eye shadow, and blush.

Crafts are the best!

Crafts are the best!

Jody texts to see if I want to sit and wait for the dances to start. But I don’t. I want to stay in the gathering area and watch everybody. This unnerves Antonio and Crystel to no end because I often do this no matter where we are. “Mom, quit staring,” they will say. Unfortunately, it will be their cross to bear.

This afternoon, I have an opportunity to observe over a hundred Latin American teens and young adults. I witness what Antonio and Crystel will look like in a few years and start to cry. They’re beautiful.

I’ve Never Had Something Not Burn

I’ve never had something not burn.

I was thinking of this when I was going through all these papers that we have collected throughout the school year that the kids have brought home from school. All year long they bring home math and spelling sheets, art drawings, more math and spelling. At the time you can’t throw anything away because it is a piece of art or they got 5 out 5 right or 8 out of 10 or maybe even 1 out of 10. Regardless, you have to keep the school papers because in the moment it is actual work to them and if you toss it in the trash you risk having your message be that their work isn’t important. Even if you place the papers carefully in the recycling bin, hiding them under the Sunday paper, you are still THROWING their hard work out.

The question is what do you keep?

I have no frame of reference. Our barn burnt down when I was in 3rd grade, our house burnt down when I was in 7th grade, and I burnt my back when I was in10th grade. You see what I mean when I say I’ve never not had something burn?

Jody has been the one that will pack decorations away after a holiday, storing them from year to year. To me, it is all temporary. It could go poof.

blog clothes 008But, I’ve gone along with Antonio and Crystel having memory boxes. We have stored away the infant clothes they were wearing when we first got them at seven and eight months old. Favorite baby clothes and shoes are also tucked away.

Sometimes it was the kids telling us that an item or piece of clothing should go in their memory box. For one, it was a way of knowing Mama Beth wouldn’t give it away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce, I made the mistake of giving the neighbor girl one of Crystel’s outfits that no longer fit her. According to Crystel it was her favorite though I couldn’t recall the last time I saw the dress on her. Seeing it on some other little girl must have jarred her memory. Much like if they would find their homework papers in the recycling bin.

Another time I stocked a classroom store with toys, pens, and other items from their playroom. During school, a classmate said to Crystel, “Isn’t that yours?” It was a group of small colored pens. Crystel hid them behind other toys so none of her classmates would see them. When I got home, she greeted me with, “Mom, how could you? How could you? I was saving those pens for college.” I had to call the teacher and ask for them back.

Sifting through their 4th grade school work, I wondered why I didn’t remember ever bringing home this much paper from school. Then I recall the trash barrel we had on the farm. When the wastebaskets needed emptying it all went in the barrel and you burned it. Poof. I grew up in a family of 12 children. Can you imagine the load of school papers that came home? The trash barrel was always lit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven though I didn’t grow up having a memory box, keepsakes, journals, etc…. I do see their value and each year I’ve journaled and kept mementos for the children. I’ve enjoyed it as much as them when we go back and look at how they have grown.

Recently, I read how a much asked for graduation present of high school and college graduates has been to receive a quilt made of t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other clothing worn by them throughout the years. I brought this idea up to Jody, Antonio, and Crystel during breakfast one morning. Looks like we already have a good start.

Looking at the blue bins, full of papers, it occurs to me that it is time to pass the baton and have them decide what is kept. I have set their bins aside for the first rainy day. I’ll stock up on glue, tape, scissors and two new notebooks.