Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘adopted’

Review of Teaching the Cat to Sit

9781451697292‘Teaching the Cat to Sit’ by Michelle Theall
Reviewed by Sara Rauch
21 May, 2014 Lambda Literary

Michelle Theall’s new memoir, Teaching the Cat to Sit, brings some big topics—God, sexuality, abuse, loneliness, love, family—to the page. It’s a rocky ride, full of contentious conversations, frank disclosures, and plenty of struggle.

Teaching the Cat to Sit presents two interwoven narratives: first, adult Michelle’s struggle to get her adopted son baptized in the Catholic Church, her decision to pull him from the Catholic school he attends, and the ongoing battle to win her mother and father’s acceptance. The second narrative begins with Michelle’s youth—a journey that leads her through abuse, her grasping to understand her sexuality, a brush with a pedophile priest, her first relationship with another woman in college, her attempts to “turn straight,” her coming out, her leaving her home state, and the healing process that eventually leads her to her life partner. A lot happens in this book—and Theall moves through the circumstances of her life with remarkable dexterity.

Theall writes with compelling honesty about loneliness—in fact, the title of the book comes from a line she overhears her father say to her mother on that topic—and the feeling she so plainly articulates has real resonance. And while her loneliness hobbles and confuses her as a young adult, her ability to be alone is ultimately what heals her.

God plays a big role in Teaching the Cat to Sit. And this isn’t just any God; this is the Catholic God—not exactly touchy-feely, not exactly a paragon of acceptance. And those with major chips on their shoulder in regards to the Catholic Church and its treatment of gays may balk at some of what Theall says. But ultimately, Theall’s grappling with the God of her youth deconstructs a very real barrier between public and private. God is, on one hand, such a personal choice, and worship, while often done in public, is arguably one of the most private acts we humans do. For Theall, having been forced to keep secrets for most of her life—to protect herself, to gain her family’s love—privacy has too long meant silence. And the breaking of a silence she is no longer willing to bear becomes the ultimate act of bravery, one that threatens to crack the delicate acceptance she’s gained from her family.

There are moments when I wanted Theall to slow down, to let me in and show me a little more of her internal struggle—but a book of this scope, covering as much ground as it does, can make that sustained interiority difficult. Some of the moments Theall presents, especially her encounters with wildlife, allow us a telling window into her state of mind—those moments of understanding, of transformation and acceptance, are very powerful.

Read entire review and more at: LAMBDA LITERARY

Carried In Our Hearts

0399161058.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_Carried In Our Hearts
New York Journal of Books
Review by Gabriel Constans

Carried in Our Hearts: The Gift of Adoption:
Inspiring Stories of Families Created Across Continents

by Dr. Jane Aaronson

“. . . There is great care, hope, and love in these pages.”

The introduction to Carried in Our Hearts reads, “These stories need to be told,” and Dr. Jane Aronson does so with honesty, insight, love, conflict, and conviction.

This collection of adoptive families around the world is wisely divided into eight thematic sections, the headings of which convey the essence of the essays in each. They are: The Decision, The Journey, The Moment We Met, Early Challenges, Becoming A Family, A New Life, Reflections: Children Tell Their Own Adoption Stories, and The Children Left Behind.

The author/editor of this collection is Dr. Jane Aronson, who has two adopted boys of her own from Ethiopia. Dr. Aronson is a pediatrician who specializes in adoption medicine and who founded the Worldwide Orphans Foundation. To say her heart, body, and soul are thoroughly invested in helping children (professionally, personally and collectively) would be an understatement.

UNICEF estimates that there are 153 million orphans in the world. Dr. Aronson is trying to get as many of them into families as possible and make sure those not adopted are treated with dignity and care.

The title of the book comes from an adopted child’s remark overheard by her mother when she was speaking to another young child her age. Her daughter’s friend said she was carried in her mother’s tummy and the adopted daughter replies, “My mommy didn’t carry me in her tummy; she carried me in her heart.” That line alone could make the harshest reader’s heart melt, but it is just one of many poignant moments revealed throughout this compilation.

Molly Wenger McCarthy, who has three children, including daughter Lu from Ethiopia, sums up the experience of adoption (and having and raising children by any means) with an insightful and comprehensive line, “The home side of our adoption is a humbling, astonishing, crazy, poignant mess of a life.”

Shonda Rhymes (creator of TV shows Gray’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal) tells about her need to surrender control to the process, as she adopted her daughters, as does actress Mary-Louise Parker and many others who had children previously or were adopting for their first time.

All of the parents who adopted also spoke about learning how to balance doing what they could for the process to move forward and simultaneously letting go of what was beyond their grasp or ability to change. Some might liken it to an adoption parent’s version of 12-step programs’ serenity prayer.

The section titled Early Challenges is especially helpful and necessary to give readers an objective perspective of the difficulties that can arise in the midst of all the goodness and joy. Physical and mental health issues, birth parents changing their minds, governments saying “no” at the last minute, adopted children having difficulty adjusting to a new environment and language, etc. can all take place before, during, and after adoption, just as painful issues can arise with biological children.

Carried in Our Hearts proclaims to contain stories from “families created across continents,” which may lead one to believe that the essays include a variety of adoptive parents (culturally, nationally, and of various financial means), but the reality is that ninety percent of the families who speak about their experience in the book are not only privileged white Americans, but also predominantly from the New York area.

This is not surprising due to the author’s circle of contacts and practice, but it would have added an enriching depth and perspective if there had been as much diversity with the adoptive parents as there is with the children who were adopted.

There is also only one story about an adoption not working out and the child being returned to the orphanage or childcare center. There may be fewer unsuccessful adoptions internationally (which is the primary focus of this collection), but on a local level there is a higher percentage (as much as 50% in some areas), in which the children do not stay in the adoptive home.

Whether you have children, are thinking of having children, thought about adopting or adopted hundreds, Carried in Our Hearts is an inspirational and timely collection. There is great care, hope, and love in these pages.

*****

Read complete review and more at New York Journal of Books.

Reviewer Gabriel Constans’s books include Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call; Good Grief, Love, Loss & Laughter; The Skin of Lions: Rwandan Folk Tales; and The Last Conception (coming in 2014). He is the father of five children (two adopted) and is closely associated with the Rwandan Orphan’s Project and the Ihangane Project, both in Rwanda.

Birthday in Rwanda

Volunteering for three weeks with a medical team and trauma specialists to provide care to children orphaned by the 1994 genocide and AIDS in Rwanda, is not a young man’s usual birthday wish on their fourteenth birthday, yet that is what Shona Blumeneau, a teenager from Santa Cruz, California experienced at ROP Center for Street Children. “It was really cool and different,” he says with a warm grin. “The people are very kind.”

Some estimates put the number of orphans in Rwanda at over a million. There have been vast improvements since the nineties, but thousands of kids are still living on the streets and many of the orphanages and youth centers that have taken in survivors (also referred to as “street rebels”) are struggling to provide basic needs, let alone education and vocational training for the children in their care.

Shona and his family held yard sales, received donations from relatives and friends across the country and had a local musician put on a piano concert to raise funds for their journey. “I worked as a referee and as a coach at a summer soccer camp,” Shona recalls. He saved half of any money he got for his birthday or holidays and put it away for his airfare to Rwanda. He says could have stayed home with friends, “but I really wanted to see Africa and make a difference.”

When he arrived in Africa and started working at ROP Center for Street Children in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, Shona found that “half the time the kids accepted me and tried to bring me into their culture and the rest of the time they wanted me to get them things or bring them home to The States.” He said they all assumed he was rich because he was from America and comparatively speaking, he is. The average daily wage in Rwanda is about one US dollar per day. “It would be hard to grow up in an orphanage and not have a family to support you,” he reflects. Every morning they returned the boys and girls would approach, grab his hands and ask if he remembered their name. They wanted to be seen, heard and reassured that they would not be forgotten. “It was awkward when I said ‘No’,” says Shona, “but I couldn’t remember everyone’s name.”

The team Shona traveled with came from throughout the U.S. and included two nurses, a psychologist, family therapist, nurse practitioner, dentist, minister, two teachers, journalist, photographer and a quilting instructor. They worked with six translators, from early morning until evening, with hundreds of children at ROP for almost three weeks. Shona assisted the nurse practitioner and dentist to give these children the first check-up they’d ever had in their lives. “At first I took pictures and then I started taking their height and weight and testing their eyes with a wall chart,” Shona proclaims. “Whitney (the nurse practitioner) taught me how to look in ears and what to look for and Jim (the dentist) showed me how to record information about teeth and gums.”

Most of the children at ROP are in their teens and adopted the young American as their brother or “inshuti” (friend in Kinyarwanda). “Everyone has a story,” says Shona, “about how their life has been since the genocide. There was one kid whose parents and siblings were killed, except for a baby sister. They were stuck on the street, taking care of the sister and eating rotten food until the director of the orphanage found them and brought them to ROP.”

His time at the orphanage was not all work and no play. “Sometimes I was just chilling with them talking, trying to communicate and understand each other. A lot of them are learning English and I picked up a few words of Kinyarwanda.” Shona’s family also brought four suitcases of donated soccer uniforms they had been collecting from parents and kids back home and provided enough outfits and balls for four teams. Shona, who has played soccer since he was four years old, would make foray’s to play with his adopted brothers and sisters on the mud and rock strewn field behind the orphanage and come back after twenty minutes dripping with sweat. “Those guys are really good!” he’d exclaim, trying to catch his breath, as he collapsed on one of the thin wooden benches used by students during class.

The words “life-changing” are often thrown around loosely in our society. To Shona Blumeneau, the words are real. “This trip has changed my life,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll ever whine about anything again.” His perspective on the privilege he enjoys in America was matched by his new found appreciation and understanding of Rwanda. “Even though there is poverty, it isn’t as bad as people describe it. Most of Africa is poor, but there is also a lot of development and hope. The kids really want to learn everything they can. I have a lot of respect for them.”

When asked if he would like to return to Rwanda, Shona, who is now a high school senior, said quickly, “Absolutely! I learned that even though I’m in another country, I still like working with kids and I can do that anywhere, even if I don’t speak their language. I think I would like to work in the medical field and I love traveling.”

You can bet your last dollar that this determined young teen from the United States will indeed make his way back to Africa, where the orphaned children of The ROP Center for Street Children will hold his hand, look him in the eye and ask, “Do you remember me?”

The Vital Ingredient

One mother, two mothers, three mothers or four – we can never have enough love and care for our children. One father, two fathers or more – we can never provide too much love and care for our children. Raised by a grandparent, a brother or and aunt – there is never too much love to go around. One mother and a father, a stepfather and/or a stepmother – there is never too much support, stability and loving presence for our children.

If children are our most precious resource (which is repeatedly mouthed by politicians and religious leaders), what difference does it make if their parent(s) and/or those willing to adopt them, are gay, heterosexual, bisexual, asexual, black, white or brown? The arguments against adoption by gay or different colored parents become increasingly ludicrous, unsubstantiated and unsupportable.

Everyone, who knows or is a gay parent, understands that sexuality has nothing to do with one’s ability to care for children. Every significant study of children raised by gay or different colored parents over the last two decades has shown there is no difference (other than a slightly safer home environment in lesbian households than in heterosexual ones) in how well-adjusted, successful and happy their children are as adults. Nor is there any significant difference in the percentage of children that become adults and identify themselves as heterosexual or gay, than in those raised in households with a heterosexual mother and father.

Our family has experienced almost every kind of parenting. From a previous marriage I have two amazing children. As a single father I adopted a wonderful son. After re-marrying we became foster parents to an incredible daughter and my wife birthed a beautiful little boy. The only kind of parenting I haven’t experienced is that of being a gay parent and/or a different color then our children, but many friends have had that experience and continue to provide their children the love and support we all need growing up.

I’ll never forget the birth of our friend’s daughter almost twenty-five years ago. She was a bright joyous addition to our world and is now a delightful, intelligent young woman, secure in herself and her own sexuality. She grew up with two moms and had as much or more love and opportunity than most.

Another friend adopted a boy and a girl who are both well adjusted, happy adults who fondly visit their parents and call them both Dad.

One of my foster sisters adopted an incredible little girl with multiple physical problems as a baby and continues to raise her, as a single, gay mom and is helping her grow into a healthy assured teen.

Even though my wife and I both identify our selves as heterosexual, one of my sons and one of our daughters are gay. They will make wonderful parents, not because of their sexuality or gender, but because they are good, caring, respectful human beings.

Common sense and human decency shows us the advantages of providing permanent safe homes for our children. Being part of a responsible, nurturing family with boundaries, limits and an ongoing container of love are the vital ingredients of a good home, not the color of the parents or guardians skin or their sexual orientation.

If some people, acting out of their own religious or political beliefs, choose to make or support ignorance and outdated laws that separate, divide and/or condemn others because of their race or sexuality, that is their sad right. On the other hand, if they really want to support “the family” and wish to make a lasting difference in the health of our nation, they can open their eyes and hearts and lend a hand to those who have taken on one of the toughest, most frustrating and satisfying jobs in the world – parenting.

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