The Birth of Juan Jose’

Juan Jose' and Crystel

Juan Jose’ and Crystel

The best part of Antonio’s name change was when Crystel stood up in the courtroom and said, “I want each of you to tell me something you like about me.” She stood confidently, her hand resting on the bar that divided the gallery from the well of the courtroom. She faced the nine people, including Antonio, who came to support his name change. Aunts, Uncles, Antonio and his girlfriend, were sitting with their back against the wall. She pointed to her Aunt Kathy. “Start there.”

This surprised and delighted me. She was asking for what she needed. And, in this moment what she needed was to know that she was as important as Antonio who within minutes would legally be named Juan Jose’.

She didn’t share his need to change her name. Her Guatemalan birth mother had told her that she named her Crystel.


Waiting for the judge.

Waiting for the judge.

The birth search and visit report that Jody and I had done in 2011 when her and Antonio were 9 years old said, Mayra (her birth mom) remembered exactly the date of Crystel’s birth. Most birth mothers do not, not for lack of interest but because dates are usually not important in Guatemala. She named her Crystel Rocio. Crystel because:  “I felt she was a little fragile thing as crystal, and Rocio (dew in English), because as I was walking the day I gave birth to her, it was cloudy and it had rained during the night, and I saw the leaves with drops of dew on them”.

When Jody and I adopted our children, we felt it was important that we keep the names that they were given at birth. We wanted to honor the birth mothers. At the time we didn’t know what their birth names would be and I fretted if I would be able to pronounce their Guatemalan given names. I refused to name my baby boy even though my social worker said that I could. I didn’t want to give him, one more thing that could be taken away from him. He was already losing his mother.

IMG_0425A few months later, we received the results of Antonio’s birth search. His birth mom, Rosa, was asked if she named Antonio. She said no, that she wanted to name him Juan Jose’ (Juan to honor her father and Jose’ to honor her grandfather), but the adoption people named him Antonio. Her father Juan died in 1982 during the Guatemalan Civil War. It is estimated that at least

5, 000 Mayans in the Rabinal area were massacred in 1981-1982. Rosa is indigenous and belongs to the Mayan Achi ethnia.

Ever since Antonio learned that Rosa wanted to name him Juan Jose’, he felt that was his real name.

Jody and I supported Antonio’s name change, nudged him even. We wanted to honor his heritage and his birth mother. We understood how central a name can be to a person’s identity. Both of us have changed our names.

A door opened. “All rise. This court is now in session. The honorable Judge Bernhardson, presiding.”

Just minutes before, Crystel had each person, including her brother and his girlfriend say something they liked about her.

What I witnessed that afternoon was two 13-year-olds asking for what they needed.

They’ll do well in the world, I thought. If a person can identify and then ask for what they need, they can navigate the road ahead of them. Jody and I have taught our children well.

A 12-Year-Old Girl Following Her Dreams

At the Wedding. Touching a Cello for the first time.

At the Wedding. Touching a Cello for the first time.

She says she’s going to Juilliard. Who am I to say she isn’t? Right now she’s in her bedroom playing cello for the second time in her life. The first time was last night at a wedding. She approached the cello player, who then invited her to sit down, and showed Crystel how to hold the stringed instrument. Within minutes she had Crystel strumming, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

Today, within an hour of bringing home the cello from Schmitt’s, I recognize Amazing Grace coming from her bedroom.

Crystel has wanted to play the cello for eight months. She’s played piano for five years and flute for one. Sometimes, I’m not sure how serious she is about an endeavor or if she is just trying to be the only one doing something. There is no cello player at Richfield Middle School. Her mother (me) doesn’t even know how to pronounce the instrument correctly.

To gauge her seriousness Crystel had to do at least three things. Stop wearing her socks outside without shoes. Figure out the cost of renting a cello and taking lessons. Decide where that money was going to come from.

Being sized at Schmitt's.

Being sized at Schmitt’s.

“You know what I see, Crystel?” I’d say, when I’d see her outside, once again, wearing only her socks.

“What?” She’d respond with a blank look.

I’d nod at her feet. “A nice looking sello.”

“Chel-oh, Mom, chel-oh. Not sello.”

I explained to her that it wasn’t about the socks. It’s that her parents told her time and time again that shoes outside was important to them and that she continued to disregard our request. “How can we know that you can take care of a sello …. ah … I mean, chello, if you can’t follow a simple request?”

After learning the cost for renting a cello and getting lessons, it didn’t bother me about the socks. I’d think, “That’s right, just keep wearing them outside, girlfriend.”

All the while, Crystel has continued to play piano and take lessons. National Piano Playing Auditions gave her a superior rating. Her distinction was Top-Talent Circle rating which means that she could appear before any audience anywhere. Right now, she plays once a month at a soup kitchen.

ah, my cello

ah, my cello

I know she is passionate about piano because Jody and I never have to ask her to practice. On many occasions, the piano is the last thing she touches before leaving the house. We can hear her rushing out a melody while we are waiting for her in the car. It’s like she has to have a tune in her head to carry her to her next activity.

A few months ago, I started noticing that she was putting shoes on before going outside. They were MY shoes but they were shoes nevertheless.

Is she going to go to Julliard? I don’t know. But, one thing I learned about my daughter, is that when she’s decided that she’s going to do something, she does it. At 3-years-old she couldn’t speak intelligibly. Only Antonio knew what she was saying. She went on to become fluent in several languages: English, Spanish, and music.

Where Were Josh Duggar’s Parents?

The responsibility for what occurred in the Duggar household belongs first and foremost to the parents.

Where were you? I want to ask them. Where were you before your son molested his sisters? I can imagine that they were cooking dinner, reading a book, or having a glass of wine.

They were busy.

I can assure you that they weren’t present for their children. I can assure you that they didn’t teach their son and daughters about boundaries, privacy, and the right to say no. I can assure you that the children didn’t feel that they would be loved and protected by their parents if they reported their brother.

I told my mother when I was nine-years old that my brother touched me. This occurred while my eight other siblings and parents were at Sunday mass celebrating first communion for our seven-year old brother. I was staying home to take care of the baby. She was number ten in our family. Number eleven and twelve weren’t born yet.

Forest of Yellow Leaves[1]It started as a game, my twelve-year-old brother and I running around the house until he wrestled me to the ground and he put his hand under my shorts. “I’m going to tell, Mom, if you don’t stop I told him.” He did stop after a minute. Even so, I was afraid. I had three other older brothers and I knew that soon it would be all of them, all of the time.

There had been warning signs. The game in the haymow when I was eight. You could do whatever you wanted to the one that was caught. It soon occurred to me that I was the only one getting caught.

Until that time, my brothers were my best friends. Their behavior irrevocably changed my relationship with them. Gone was the feeling of safety in their presence. Instead came suspicion and fear when they wanted to be alone with me.

I warmed the infant’s bottle in the pan of hot water just as my mother showed me. Squirted the formula on my forearm to make sure it wasn’t too hot. I crawled up into the dry sink that we used for a crib, sat cross-legged, and cradled the baby in my arms. My body shook. I ran it in my mind over and over how I would tell my mother that my brother touched me. Up to that point that was the hardest thing I had ever done. Taking care of babies was easy.

I waited until my mother was alone. She was spreading frosting on the cake. I sidled up to her. “Mom, Patrick touched me,” I said. “While you were at church.” She turned to me. “I told you not to mess with Patrick while I was gone. You were supposed to take care of the house. You can’t have the frosting bowl.” Her words stung. I swore that I’d never tell her again. No matter how bad it got.

I didn’t tell her again until I was nineteen. I was afraid for my three sisters still at home.

My brothers weren’t taught boundaries, privacy, and don’t touch your sisters. We didn’t have locks on doors. My mother’s words when I was nine told me that me and my sisters were responsible for how our brothers acted.

Using the same word that Josh Duggar used, what my parents did was inexcusable. Their parenting was inexcusable. They stole my best friends from me. The incest didn’t start as an act of violence. It was an act of not being taught that touching others was wrong.

Before my mother died of cancer she told me that she was sorry for the incest. She said that she was overwhelmed. With ten children, two more babies still to come, and an alcoholic husband, who wouldn’t be? Still, I didn’t tell her that she was forgiven.

Parents of Josh Duggar, where were you, what lessons have you taught your children, and most importantly will they forgive you?

Being Friends Is Not Natural

FullSizeRenderI drive past Richfield Middle School and spot Antonio and Crystel a block away. The 12-year olds are walking home from school. Backpacks slung over their shoulder. Track bags dangling at their side. Walking shoulder to shoulder. My heart warms. I’ve always wanted them to be friends. To be proud to call each other brother and sister.

I don’t believe that sibling friendship comes naturally. Friendships among siblings need to be nurtured.

What comes natural is comparison, competition, and mine, mine, mine.

Years ago, when I was the stay at home mom, Santa brought Antonio a Disney princess doll set and Crystel Spiderman pajamas. Santa was attempting to even the score that the four-year olds were keeping.

Why does he have a different laundry basket than me?
Do I get three licorice?
Does Crissy get a timeout too?
Can I help? Crissy got to use the mop last time.
Why did the tooth fairy bring him ….
I took a bath first last time.
I’m growing, Crystel’s not.
How come I don’t get no cars?

Antonio and Crystel looked to the other to see how they were doing.

1132To nurture a friendship between the two I sought out opportunities for them to be nice to each other. This could be in the form of passing a dessert, opening a door, saying a kind word, buying the other a birthday or Christmas present, or letting the other be first.

To enrich their friendship I noticed when someone’s heart was hurt and insisted the children make amends to each other. This could be a hug or saying something they liked about the other. Later when they were older it meant putting the words into writing, which they taped to their bedroom wall.

Even now on Crystel’s wall is a letter to her from six-year old Antonio that says:

1. hes the bes. (She’s the best)
2. hes fune. (Shes’s fun)
3. hes cule. (She’s cute)
4. ses sow moch fun to plau weht (She’s so much fun to play with)

On the other side of the letter is a picture of Raikou Pokemon that he drew for her.

DSCN0725It’s also allowing the children to take space from each other, especially when a sign shows up on a bedroom door that says, NO BOYS! This means you Antonio!

It’s teaching the children that privacy is good and respect for each other is a must.

It’s reminding them that the other was there for them when they met their birth mom and siblings and now it’s their turn to be supportive.

It’s celebrating their strengths and having compassion for their weaknesses.

One will always be faster. “I’ll wait for you, Cissy.”
One will always be braver. “You first, Cissy.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s letting them know that the world is a big place and that the Richfield Cross Country team is big enough for both of them. They both can choose running as their ‘thing’.

And, in the Spring when it comes time for sixth grade track and one doesn’t want to join because they don’t know anybody on the team and they don’t want to be a loner, they can count on the other one to look out for them and save them a place on the grass.

I pull the car over to the curb. Antonio and Crystel recognize me. Antonio opens the front passenger door and tosses his bags in. Then he opens the back door and slides in next to Crystel.

I smile at them. “I’m glad you’re friends.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust like when they were little, they look at each other and laugh.

On Being a Parent

In the early morning hours I woke to a death squeal. I stood with my ear pressed to the bedroom door. I didn’t want to open the door and have whatever was making that noise escape into our room. I also didn’t want to see what lay on the other side.

If this was Antonio or Crystel needing me I would have been upstairs in a moment.

Either this was a cat injured or another animal.

Jody hadn’t moved from the bed. She sat upright watching me. To her credit she is often upstairs first in the morning and has to deal with any carnage brought in during the night by our three young cats.

I heard rustling, then quiet. I waited. I turned the knob, peeked out the door.

“It’s a bunny,” I said, relieved. I brushed away the cats. Took a piece of paper and touched the animal. It didn’t move.

I opened our garage, retrieved a snow shovel that hadn’t been put away for the summer, and scooped up the cottontail. In the darkness I flipped it over our fence into the athletic field next door and went back to bed.

That same morning, I was reading the Sunday paper. I could hear the dog barking in the backyard. I took another sip of coffee and thumbed through the Variety section.

Jody came downstairs from the upper level. She had been on a work conference call. Maybe the barking got to her.

“The dog has a bunny,” she said looking out the patio door.

I went outside. This baby bunny was still alive. It was smaller than the one last night. I picked it up and held it in my hands.

Antonio came up behind me. “Here, I’ll take it.” He held out his cupped palms.

I handed the bundle carefully to him. He used his swimming towel to make a nest for the bunny in a small cardboard box and took the bunny to his room.

His being up complicated matters. In crept the concern about how he would regard my actions with this injured animal and how I wanted to raise him as a compassionate person. There would be no flipping this baby rabbit over the fence.

I Googled how to raise bunnies. It didn’t look good.

“Antonio, it says that you should put the bunny back where you found it. Maybe it will go back to its den.”

He took the bunny and lay it under a bush. Ten minutes later the bunny still hadn’t moved. Antonio retrieved the bunny and felt its body for the injury.

“Should we wake Crystel?” he asked.

“No.” I was hoping I would have the situation resolved by the time she awoke. I went through a list of possibilities and ended with the idea that taking the bunny two miles to Woodlake Nature Center and leaving it by the bird feeder would be the most humane act and something that Antonio could live with. Maybe a hawk would swoop it up.

“It’s the circle of life,” I told Antonio on the drive over.

At Woodlake we sat on the bench watching the birds fly back and forth to the feeders. Antonio cradled the bunny in his arms. I pulled up dead grass and made a nest for the bunny near the feeder. Antonio lay him gently down.

Once home, Crystel met us at the door.

“You didn’t wake me,” she accused.

Back at Woodlake, Crystel picked up the bunny and petted it. “Can we keep it?”

“No, Crystel. This is the best thing.”

She carried the bunny away from me singing, “It’s the circle of life little bunny.”

Cradling the bunny in the crook of her arm, she pulled dead grass with the other to fluff up the nest.

“His mother won’t find him,” she said.

“You’re right. Not this time.”

The bunny lay on her soft white polo sleeve.

“Hey, that’s my jacket.”

She laughed. “I know.”

I gave her a cockeyed glance.

She knew me well enough to know that I loved being her mother and that I wouldn’t mind the hours I spent on this tiny bunny because it had to do with her and Antonio. Even though it meant that the Sunday paper would end up in the recycling bin unread and I’d be doing an extra load of wash later that day.

I wouldn’t have had it any other way.