Company of Strangers

Bell ringers, crowded parking lots, a too-warm coat in a too-warm store waiting in line to pay, missing a gift box, losing a gift receipt. Bright lights and glittering messages of sales and making others happy. A barrage of noise and pressure camouflage what was once Christmas. Thanksgiving’s turkey barely forgotten and three weeks of hurry up to run.

Away from the malls, eight school choir members dressed in the winter jacket and hat uniform of kids their age line Fish Creek’s historic Alexander Noble House’s porch while dozens of friends, family, strangers, holiday lovers gather on the walkways. Young boys kick apart snow chunks along sides of the gathering. Flashing Christmas lights hang around the necks of middle-age women. Babies watch from cocoons of blankets and scarves. Couples relax within each other’s arms or stand side-by-side exchanging private looks of contentment.

Candle flames flicker in a playful breeze, burning holes in plastic cup that offer minimal wind protection. Most stay lit for the community Christmas caroling led by a choir director’s strong tenor. Everyone beyond the age of teenage angst sings. Confidence is found in the company of strangers on a mild December evening waiting for lighting of a tree maybe twelve feet tall. Choir members stand absolutely still, sway on booted feet, move from one foot to another as the crowd owns old songs, contemporary songs, religious songs. The night could go on longer as people unconsciously edge closer to each other.

The temporary community chorale doesn’t need a soaring Rockefeller Center tree to proclaim Christmas. When the switch flips and hundreds of white lights sparkle, the moment becomes special. People clap. Some call out Merry Christmas. The tree festivities end without a pitch for funds or a speech by the someone with a title, just the exchanging of holiday wishes as blown out candles return to a box.

Happy holidays to all of you. May you find times of comfort and peace in the coming weeks and all of 2020.

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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.

Word-of-Mouth Advertising

The word INTEGRITY is written on the children’s whiteboard in their room. “We are working on integrity”, I tell them.

Instead of using the word integrity I could have used terms like truthful, honest, trustworthy, reliable, or reputation. I mean, we are talking about whether or not they are actually practicing piano and drums like they say they are. I have reason to doubt them, especially, since they enthusiastically want to practice when I am walking the dogs. Timing just happens to work out that their 20 minutes of practice finishes just before Jody and I walk back in the door.

“What is integrity?” they asked.

I said, “It is simple. Integrity means: Do what you say. Say what you mean.”

If my children can embody integrity they will be successful in business and life.

Our entire trip to Guatemala was done entirely because of integrity and word of mouth marketing.

Word-of-mouth is one of the most credible forms of advertising because people who don’t stand to gain personally by promoting something put their reputation on the line every time they make a recommendation.

In 1996, Jody rented an upstairs duplex from a couple. This couple adopted two infant girls, a few years apart, from Guatemala. Through the years, our contact with the family was sporadic, largely through holiday cards. In 2011, I contacted them because I was aware that they had made visits back to Guatemala. This was an email from them:

“As I told Beth we were just in Guatemala two weeks ago and had a great time. We had our 4th visit with the girl’s birth families that went very well, due in large part to working with de FAMILIA a FAMILIA   in Guatemala. We started working with them in 2001 and they successfully located both families. They have continued to work with us over the years to maintain contact and facilitate our support for the families. The women of de FAMILIA a FAMILIA are Guatemalan women who are very committed to the people of Guatemala and have a great grasp of the complexity of the relationship between adoptive families and their children’s birth families.”

Shortly after this email, Jody, Antonio, Crystel, and I met with this family to talk with their now teenagers about their experience meeting and staying connected with their birth families. Antonio and Crystel were sharp-eyed and attentive as the teenagers shared their Guatemala travel stories and photographs.

Within minutes of us saying goodbye to the family, Crystel said, “I want to meet my birthmom.”

I contacted de FAMILIA a FAMILIA the next day.

Our experience with de FAMILIA a FAMILIA in locating Antonio’s and Crystel’s birthmom’s surpassed our expectations. They documented the search for us with photographs and script. We saw pictures and read about the birthmom’s response to knowing that their son and daughter from the United States were searching for them. All of us felt like we were following behind the movie camera as it rolled.

When the time came for us to travel to Guatemala, de FAMILIA a FAMILIA, recommended that “I would suggest that you contact Nancy Hoffman for your transportation and hotel arrangements.”

I contacted Nancy Hoffman of Guatemala Reservations the next day.

Nancy also surpassed our expectations. I made the initial contact with only giving her the information of the dates that we were flying to Guatemala. She took it from there, asking me all the questions that she needed to provide us with a tailored itinerary for our 10-day stay. Prior to our trip, she stayed in constant contact with us via email and when we were in Guatemala we had her personal phone number. The two hotels that she booked for us were perfect for the adults and the children. The transportation she provided for us was safe and reliable. I could clearly tell why de FAMILIA a FAMILIA would recommend Nancy Hoffman.

In one of my emails to Nancy I asked her if she could connect me with anyone from the project Amigos de Santa Cruz and I told her that we were also interested in visiting San Juan’s medicinal and curative plant garden.

“Hi Elizabeth – a good friend, Lee Beal, (from the USA) works as a guide and is associated with the Amigos program and also with the folks in San Juan. You can contact him directly. I contacted Lee Beal and subsequently have written many posts about our experience with him and his organization.

de Familia a Familia, Nancy Hoffman and Lee Beal built their reputation by doing what they say and saying what they mean. 

After our Integrity discussion piano and drum practice has increased in length. Sometimes, I still mention the word Integrity when I ask them how long they practiced. Antonio and Crystel know what I mean.

Now, I’m trying to explain to them how NOT saying something or not volunteering information when they ‘should’ be volunteering information is also a form of honesty.  But … we are all works in progress. Even so, I hope I am starting to impart the idea that at the end of the day our reputation is our individual responsibility and it starts with having integrity. And, when we have integrity, no one can take that from us. It’s ours and it is personal to who we are.