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Nieto (Grandson) 

Sailboater's Joe & Sharon get a Special Surprise in Guatemala ... They Become Grandparents.

Sharon & Nieto in Antigua, Guatmalaby Sharon Kratz, s/v Rose of Sharon

Joe and I think 2008 was a “personal best.”  We sailed our boat from Guatemala to Panama.  One daughter graduated with honors from Indiana University and we took a family vacation to Disneyworld.  And then there were the grandchildren, all of them healthy and beloved.

People still ask about the year that stood still for us – the year we lived in Antigua, Guatemala for four months foster caring the baby who would be our grandson, our Nieto.

In 2005 we left the Caribbean and sailed up the Rio Dulce – the sweet river – and hunkered down for hurricane season with about 200 retirees just like us.  We partied on Friday or Saturday nights, swam in our marina or resort hotel pools, and rambled into and through Guatemala by chicken buses or private vans on hell-bent-for-leather tourist tours.  While the U.S. Gulf Coast was getting pounded by the hurricane season, we were snug (and a little bit smug) in our hurricane hole on Guatemala’s Rio Dulce.

We were a community.  The Vietnam Vets drank cold Gallo or Victoria beers and re-lived their time spent in choppers or foxholes.  The ex-nurses and ex-schoolteachers volunteered in remote jungle village medical clinics, where worms and head lice were the most prevalent patient problem.  The corporate refugees who were ex-hippies smoked a little pot.  Potluck suppers were held weekly.

On Guatemala’s Rio Dulce, you can’t tell the difference between a successful attorney and a bum with a boat.  Everyone wears raggy shorts, flip-flops and worn-out yacht club t-shirts.  The only measure of social class is how well you maintain your boat.

We cruisers cell phoned or Skyped or emailed our kids and grandkids in the States almost daily.  Occasionally I would meet a misguided retiree who also thought he or she had the most wonderful grandchildren, but I put it down to the fact that the poor soul hadn’t met mine and therefore didn’t know just how perfect grandchildren could be.

Then Joe and I got a heartbreaking phone call – “I can’t get pregnant” – from our daughter, Kara.  She was considering adoption.

We tried to be encouraging and optimistic.  Kara is a single woman, and many times, her pathways have been rockier than most.  She seldom takes the easy road if there’s a better one.

Then and now, I believe the best possible parenting scenario is a man and woman, loving and respectful of each other, working together to provide a safe, caring home for their children.  But I have seen so many examples of bad parenting and the subsequent disastrous results that I’ve had to make some shifts in my basic tenets.  I knew Kara could be a terrific parent.  I knew that any child lucky enough to be able to call her “Mom” would be well loved and well cared-for.  And I knew if she needed our support in the adoption process, her dad and I would be there for her and for our grandchild.

Kara wanted a boy.  Joe and I asked her if a U.S. baby was a possibility.  “Not a young one,” she replied.  “The traditional two-parent family gets the new babies.  I could get an older child, but an older child . . .” We knew what she was saying.  God willing, there’s a special home and special people available to adopt older children, but most adoptive parents want a newborn.

Kara wanted to adopt a Guatemalan baby boy.  Immediately, Joe and I knew how we could help.  We would foster care our own grandson.

The early stages of the adoption process tossed Kara into an emotional Cuisinart, where she was psychologically mixed and mashed and spun around in circles.  The adoption agency website shows photos of  babies in-the-works. The website is private, and only agency parents and parents-to-be can log in and read about or share the joys and fears of the adoption experience.  She studied Guatemalan baby photos on the adoption agency website with desire, wishing that one of those little faces was her baby.  She did her how-to-be-a-parent homework and attended meetings where she and other adoptive parents shared their feelings about the adoption experience.  A couple of times, she left those meetings in tears.  Once she said that seeing a happy couple walk in with their Guatemalan baby put her over the top because she was so longing to have a baby and so afraid it would never be a reality for her.  She quietly left the room and broke into anguished sobs in the hallway.

“Think of this time as your labor pains,” I told her.

Antigua, GuatemalaThe adoption agency, the Guatemalan foster caregiver and the adoptive parent(s) all sign papers declaring that the entire foster care of the adoptive baby was provided by a resident of Guatemala.  But some agencies, including the one Kara used, allow the parents (or in our  case, grandparents) to foster care their own baby.  They insist the U.S. foster caregivers live in Antigua because the safety and services of the city are excellent.  But it’s another one of those gray areas that no one is clear about: the Guatemalan citizen-infant is never supposed to be out of the care of another Guatemalan citizen during the adoption process, but in Antigua the streets are rife with young white women and their little brown babies.

To North Americans, Guatemalan babies are beautiful!  Indigenous Mayan babies are cream-and-coffee colored, with almond-shaped brown/black eyes and attractive features.  Some babies have lighter skin colorings because of hundreds of years of a strong Spanish presence in Guatemala.  I was stunned to discover that in Guatemala, just as in Mexico, the lighter skinned people are considered more attractive.  Most of the well-to-do Guatemalans are more Spanish in appearance than the native Mayans.  While we in the U.S. (well, most of us, anyway) view native Indian heritage as a source of pride, many Guatemalans see the indigenous people of their country as racially inferior.

When discussing our plan to be foster caregivers for her son and our grandson, Kara, who had never had a baby, explained to me and Joe, who had had two babies, how babies think.  She read it in a book and she gave me the book too, so I would know how to properly care for a baby.  “They don’t bond with you,” she said, “It’s not . . . a personality thing, a love thing.  The baby attaches to whomever is The Milk Provider.”

Breakfast!Joe and I left our beloved boat on the river and made the move to Antigua January 2006.  Three days later, a tiny bundle weighing just over 6 pounds was handed to me in the lobby of the Westin Hotel in Guatemala City.  I looked down at the sleeping baby boy, so new and tiny he looked like a raisin in a blue blanket and then I looked up at Joe.  “I hope we don’t screw this up,” I whispered.

The tiny baby stirred, made a mewing noise like a kitten and barely opened his eyes. You got The Milk? he asked.

Karson was born to a Q’eqchi Indian woman in a tiny village near Mazatenango, Guatemala.  His mother spoke only her native language, not Spanish.  (Think of the Q’eqchi Indian people as “Native Central Americans,” just as we in the U.S. recognize our individual Native American tribes.  There are many indigenous Indian tribes in Guatemala, and most have their own language.)  The baby was her first, the child’s father was a cornfield worker, and she could not keep the baby because she was already raising her siblings, following the deaths of their parents the year before.  She did not want the village to know of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

In Guatemala, a baby in the adoption process is entrusted to a Guatemalan woman for foster care.  Adoptive parents (or in our case, grandparents) from the U.S. do not “officially” have the baby.  The entire time we had little Karson with us in Antigua, a local woman named Rosa was listed as his foster caregiver.  There is no “price break” from the adoption agency if you foster care your own child.  There is also no financial assistance of any kind, no diaper or formula reimbursements.  Nada.  In fact, the agency insists adoptive parents live in agency-approved housing.  The recommended agency housing in Antigua was a very secure, very nice apartment complex and the furnished apartments were $900 per month, way out of our budget range.  Joe and I made two trips to Antigua before we received Karson to scout out living arrangements and we were very happy in our $350/month hostel, but it had to be pre-approved by the agency before we could make arrangements.

Foster care parents agree to never take the child anywhere without the agency’s knowledge and consent and to never, ever travel with the baby without an agency-approved driver.  The agency driver is more expensive than the local drivers, too.

If you think this is not fair and you question the process, the agency representative reminds you that you chose to do this.  It is outside of the process and possibly puts you and the agency at risk, should something catastrophic happen to the baby on your watch.

The agency representative gave us an envelope full of papers and said, “Take this with you wherever you go.  If you are stopped on the road to or from Guatemala City, hand this envelope to your driver.  Don’t say anything and let your driver handle the situation.”  Sizing me up at a glance, she paused for emphasis, “Again, if you are stopped, do not try to talk with the police or the officials.  Let your driver do all of the talking.”

She must have said this, clearly and emphatically, about four times:  “You do not have any legal rights to this child.  Do you understand that?  You do not have any legal rights to this child.”  As I clutched the sleeping baby to my breast, Joe and I nodded obediently and repeated, “We do not have any legal rights to this child.”

If you are a U.S. citizen who wants to foster care your own child or grandchild in Guatemala, be aware that it��s not for the faint of heart.  But then, neither is parenting.

Karson was the first boy born in our immediate family and the first one since the late ’70s in our extended family.  Later, I loved saying that word, boy.  “How’s The Boy?”  I would coo when he woke.  “Let’s take The Boy outside to the swing,” I would say to Joe.

Our life in Antigua

Grounds of the Casta Santa Domingo. No tour of Antigua is complete without a visit to the beautiful Casa Santa Domingo.  True to form, this five-star Guatemalan hotel was built around the ruins of the Monasterio Santo Domingo, thus preserving the integrity of the ancient structures while incorporating new lush gardens and scenic walkways.  It seems to me that while we in the U.S. landscape around our buildings, other countries have captured the art of incorporating their structures into the landscape.  The entire property is educational and eye pleasing.  Craftsmen and artisans work in small studios within the complex, and I was in museum heaven!

There is an Apothecary Museum, a Museum of Contemporary Arts, a Museum of Pre-Columbian Art and Modern Glass, a Colonial Art Museum . . . and I refused to leave until I’d seen every museum piece at Casa Santa Domingo.  Joe was getting glassy-eyed as I eagerly pointed out the contrast between modern Swedish art glass and pre-Columbian Mayan and Olmec art as if I knew what I was talking about.  But while I wander about, waxing poetic about colors and shapes, he knows important details, like where we are and what we’re seeing.  Joe is truly a wealth of knowledge and if he could hit the buzzer faster, I’d put him on Jeopardy.

To pick up your monthly copy of Guatemala’s Revue Magazine (in English), you must go to the tourism office in the stately Palacio de los Capitanes building, located on the main plaza.  Since we were in Antigua during its busy Lenten season, we also checked out the processional routes that were posted in the tourism office windows.

My favorite souvenir-shopping site was the Mercado de Artisanias, conveniently located at 4 Calle Poniente and Alameda de Santa Lucía across from the huge mercado complex where we bought our fruits and vegetables every week.  We also bought souvenirs at Nim Pot, a combination gallery/retail shop that displayed some of the finest examples of Guatemalan textiles and traditional Mayan clothing to be found in Central America.  Nim Pot was conveniently located next to Frida’s, a restaurant that offered the best margaritas in town.  Our first week there, we had to stop at Frida’s twice to make sure we were correct in our assessment of their margaritas and yes, those deliciously sweet-and-tart ices slid down our parched throats quite easily, thank you.

Our daughter Kara got an idea of how often we’d enjoyed Frida’s margaritas when she and another adoptive mom went there for lunch.  The waiter did not know Kara, but recognized our grandson right away.  “How is our little Karson today?” he cooed, chucking Karson under the chin.  He turned to Kara.  “And you are . . .?”

“Karson’s mom,” Kara replied.

Karson smiled and waved his arms at his buddy the waiter.  I’ll have the usual, Karson said.  In fact, make it a double.

But the Antiguan coffee!  I used to drink my coffee with a hefty amount of sugar (like people who use catsup on their food, I’m not proud of it but I did it anyway), but in Antigua I added nothing because it would be an abomination to corrupt the flavor of these wonderful coffees.

If you aren’t a coffee drinker, the place to become one is Antigua, Guatemala.

We quickly fell into a routine that revolved around our grandson.  Every two hours we diligently fed him three ounces of formula.  It took almost two hours for him to eat three ounces of formula, so we were feeding him 24/7.

For the first time in over a year, I watched television.  Karson slept, Karson ate, Karson burped, Karson pooped and peed.  I clicked the remote control and changed channels, shifted Karson from left to right, clicked the remote control and increased or lowered the volume.

Joe & KarsonThe day began about 5:30 a.m., when Joe would take Karson to the small computer station in our room, hold him in his left arm so he could see the computer screen, then fed him his breakfast while they played computer games.  Karson blinked wisely as Joe manipulated the cards in Spider Solitaire.  An audio CD repeatedly playing one song, “House of the Rising Sun,” accompanied their morning ritual.  Karson solemnly sucked on his bottle as they moved from Spider Solitaire to Minesweeper.

At about 8:00 a.m., I dragged out of bed and my first task was to wash Karson’s clothes.  I wouldn’t entrust his laundry to a launderer and there was no nearby do-it-yourself Laundromat.  In Guatemala, it’s cheaper to pay to have your laundry done than to do it yourself anyway, so we sent our clothes out every week.  But I hand washed the baby’s clothing and blankets, soaking them in Suavitel fabric softener as the last rinse.  We had purchased a tiny round two-tiered hanger for his clothing and I hung it outside in the courtyard near the stairway leading to the roof and visitors often said how much they enjoyed the fragrance of Karson’s clothes drying in the Guatemalan sun.

Following the morning laundry, I washed the dirty baby bottles that had accumulated during the night.  This baby business had definitely gotten easier over the years!  With our kids, Joe and I sterilized everything:  bottles, nipples, formula . . . I can’t remember if the formula was premixed or we had to make it, but whatever it was, we had to boil it.  With Karson in Guatemala, we did not sterilize anything.  We washed his bottles in soap and water using the tap water that I would not allow him to drink.  We mixed his formula using room-temperature Salva Vida bottled water that we had delivered to our door once a week.  That was it.  No heating, no nothing.  On a couple of really chilly nights, I heated his bottled water in our coffeemaker just because it would be anybody’s preference:  a nice warm drink on a cold night.  But room temperature was just fine.

By the time I finished laundry and baby bottles, it was time for the hand-off.  I took Karson and we climbed back into bed to watch television.  There were two channels that were in English and my favorite one had Spanish subtitles and commercials.  It was a Sony network and had interesting “Did You Know…?” tidbits in Spanish and Sony Music videos.  I struggled to translate the “Did You Know…?” commercials, one of which was this:  “Did You Know . . . Michael Jackson was once Black?”  There was another “Did You Know?” commercial that featured a can of Heinz pork and beans and a swastika.  I never did figure it out.

After The Price is Right, it was Go Outside Time.  Guatemalans are not comfortable seeing Americanos hauling newborn babies on the street.  My guess is that they keep their babies close to home for their first two months to reduce exposure to disease.  It makes sense.  So we too stayed closed to home.  Karson did not leave the house his first month with us except for his routine doctor’s appointment.

But every time – every time – I took Karson out to our sunny courtyard, the maid Conchita would fret.  “¡Muy frio!” (Very cold!) she would scold, and if there was one piece of Karson flesh peeking out from his clothing and blankets, she would wrap and tuck until he was completely covered.  The other maid would scoop Karson into her arms and chuck him under the chin until he smiled.  She chattered away to him in Spanish and he listened attentively to every word.  Then she would bundle him tighter, cover every millimeter of exposed skin, and give him back to me.  “¡Es frio demasiado por el bebé!” (It’s too cold for the baby!) she would fuss.  It was 80 degrees in the shade.

Our courtyard/patio had a shaded swing, and Karson and I would swing for awhile then walk around looking at the flowering plants, of which we had many.  Of course, we had much conversation about the swing, the plants, the general state of the planet and our state of being.  “Are we wet?” I would coo to Karson.  He blinked.  No, not yet, but don’t leave town, he replied.

“How’s my sweet boy today?  Are you Abuela’s (grandmother’s) good boy today?”  Karson would stretch.  You’re a nice lady, but where’s that bottle you promised me?

 “Oh, my goodness!  Are we a poopy boy?  What a stinky baby!”  Karson frowned.  You and that old man release some toxic gasses at night in our little room, lady.

At this point it was about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon and Karson had not been out of our arms the entire day except for diaper changes.  Later, when he was older I became a bottle-propping Abuela but Grandpa Joe never sunk to bottle-propping and held Karson at every feeding.  So it was time for Alone Time.  Karson was put in his bed (which was actually a baby bathtub converted to a bed).

As evening approached, Karson went downstairs to the kitchen with us.  Now, we were in a hostel with a shared kitchen, which means we were fixing our meals alongside travelers, usually from Europe.  While I sliced and diced and cooked alongside Trish the British lady or Hans the German guy, Joe sat at the kitchen table holding Karson and passersby would stop to make a fuss over the baby.  Karson liked it a lot.  Later, we got a small car seat/carrier and Karson would sit inside it atop the large glass-topped dining table, holding court while the rest of us shuffled about the business of communal meal preparations.  He liked being part of a group and he liked the fact that he was the only baby in town.  His town, anyway.

Bedtime was around 9:00 p.m.  We eased the already sleeping Karson into his tiny bed and he slept until the next feeding.  His sleep times increased appropriately until he could make it from 9:00 p.m. until about 4:30 a.m.  That was the feeding we took him into our bed.

Kara emphatically had begged us not to “sleep with the baby.”  And we promised her we wouldn’t.  But we are sleep-with-the-baby experts.  Do not try this at home; Joe and I are professionals.  When you sleep with a baby, you don’t move.  Period.  We nestled Karson in-between us in the warm bed, Joe held his bottle while one of us snuggled him into the crook of an arm or the curve of a back, then we all went to sleep.  We loved that time.  But you don’t move when you have a sleeping baby in bed and if your partner moves, you find yourself waking up just enough to ensure he’s nowhere near rolling on the baby.

The scariest moment I had was after Karson was gone, in the U.S. with his mother and rightful owner.  I woke up terrified one morning because Joe and I were snuggled together, spooned, and my first thought was My God, we crushed the baby!  Then I remembered the baby was in Denver.

As the adoption processed moved forward, there were two instances in which the birth mother would be reunited with Karson.  The first occasion was the DNA test.

Here’s how it was supposed to work:  our driver would take us to the lab where we would meet Karson’s official Guatemalan foster caregiver, Rosa.  We would give the baby to Rosa who would enter the lab carrying the baby.  Karson’s birth mother would also be at the lab.  She would see her baby for the first time since his birth, and she was supposed to see him in the arms of a Guatemalan caregiver.

What happened was, we got to the lab and there was no sign of Rosa so we went inside.  There sat Rosa in the waiting room, three chairs from Karson’s birth mother.  I practically swooned.  I walked up to Rosa and handed her The Boy, then sat down and tried not to stare at Karson’s birth mother.  Rosa spoke no English and my Spanish was bad at best, but we carried on a disjointed conversation regarding the baby’s weight and general health and, of course, how beautiful and obviously intelligent he was.

Karson’s birth mom sat miserably in her chair.  Two younger girls, her sisters I presumed, were with her, but Karson’s birth mother was obviously alone in another place.  She was also young but had the face of a much older woman, a hard-working woman who has already seen too much sorrow for her years.  And now this.  Her long, black hair was shiny and clean and pulled sternly away from her face, braided and tied with a ribbon.  She wore the traditional clothing of an indigenous Guatemalan villager, with a loose white over blouse and long skirt.  Her hands were clasped together and glued to her lap as she stared at the floor.  Every now and then, one of her sisters would say something that would cause the other one to laugh, but Karson’s birth mother never smiled.

A nurse entered the waiting room, made some kind of announcement, and Rosa stood up with Karson.  The interpreter led Karson’s birth mother into a small room and Rosa and Karson followed.  From what I understand, it was necessary for the birth mother to hold the baby while the DNA swab test was administered.  This had me worried.  How could anyone hold little Karson and not fall in love with him?

I probably could have crowded into the room with them and taken pictures but my usual aggressive photographer attitude was definitely dampened at this point.  I sat in my chair and kept my mouth shut for a change.  I prayed, Please don’t let her feel anything.  Please let her be happy that she’s doing this.  Please don’t let her change her mind today.

When Rosa emerged from the exam room, she immediately placed Karson in my arms.  I stole a glimpse at his birth mom but she never met my gaze.  However, her sister did.  Her sister smiled at me and nodded her head once, in acknowledgement.  I wanted them to somehow know that it wasn’t these two old Americanos adopting The Boy, that we were stand-ins for our daughter.  I wanted them to know so much, like how many people would love this child and what a wonderful gift they were giving to our family.  I tried to say that and more to the sister with one look.  I hope she heard me.

The following month, we were told to report to the Westin with Karson at 9:00 a.m. and meet Rosa in the lobby.  Karson was going to Family Court, another occasion when his birth mother would be carefully questioned about whether or not she wanted to continue with the adoption.  I was terrified.  What if we handed Karson over to Rosa and never saw him again?

I dressed him in his best outfit, an olive green baby-suit with teddy bear footy-shoes.  I had purchased a blanket for him that I thought was typical Guatemalan and when Rosa saw it at the DNA test she frowned and made snipping motions at the fringe on the edge of the blanket.  Fringe was bad.  I’d evidently bought a blanket that Guatemalans with poor taste would buy.  For his day in court, Karson was wrapped in a plush satin-lined blanket.  Rosa nodded approvingly when she saw Karson dressed to the nines in his little suit and wrapped in the new blanket.  I handed the baby and his diaper bag to her and watched them leave the lobby of the Westin Hotel, then turned to Joe with tears in my eyes.  “If she takes the baby back, what will we do?” I worried.

“We’ll find her village and kidnap him,” Joe replied.  “If they call and tell us to bring the baby to Guatemala City because the mother wants him back, we’ll kidnap him.  We’ll run back to the boat and we can be in Honduras or Belize before they know we’re gone.”  It was all very uncomplicated in Joe’s mind.  Joe will not allow a marijuana cigarette onboard our boat.  He never runs red lights.  But he was comfortable with committing a major crime in a third world country?

My imagination is my best friend and worst enemy.  “Well, what if the adoption doesn’t go through – what if they reject Kara as a single mom – and they take Karson back and his birth mother doesn’t want him and they put him in an orphanage?”

Joe was serene.  “We’ll find him,” he said.  “The Boy is ours.  Kara can raise him, we don’t have to be with him, but we’ll never be without him.  Ever.”

Joe went to a nearby store looking for a boat part and I returned to one of the lobby’s plush sitting rooms and tried to read.  It was hard to concentrate, so I decided to sit and stare at nothing.

Suddenly, Rosa appeared in front of me and she was holding a sleeping Karson.  Her smile was wide as she said something in Spanish about how it went in court, and my relief was so profound I thought I might faint.  I held Karson as tightly as possible without suffocating him.  He yawned and opened his eyes.  Glad to see you too, he said.  Got the milk?

Joe and I were totally gone on The Boy.  “Are you sure you’re going to be okay with giving Karson up when the adoption goes though?”  Kara asked when she visited.  Her brow was furrowed with worry lines.  “You guys are really attached to him.”

“We’re fine,” I reassured her.  “We’ll hand him over without a backward glance.”

“I think you’re in denial,” Kara declared.  She was right.

Karson at the doctors office.At his three-month check-up, Karson tipped the scales at 11 pounds, 11 ounces and to celebrate, I bought him a piano.  It wasn’t easy, though.  We had our driver take us to a Sears store in Guatemala City, where we were looking for a swing – you know, those crank-up swings you put babies in to knock them out – and the store didn’t have one, but on a shelf I saw an odd little piano keyboard with lots of lights and jingles and it looked like fun to me.  I held Karson up to the boxed piano and hit a switch.

The theme to Masterpiece Theatre lit the airwaves like a beacon and Karson’s face lit up too.  He loved it!  He gurgled appreciatively and bounced a bit.  I hit another switch.  Lights flashed and a jaunty French song played.  Karson smiled and reached.

Money was no object.  I had to get that piano for The Boy.  Joe said no.  “We came here to get a swing, not a piano that is for older babies.  You’ve lost your focus.”  I gripped the box tighter and shuffled Karson back into his carrier.

“If you could just see his face when the music plays . . .” I begged.

“He’s not big enough for it!” Joe protested.

Joe fumed as I hauled the piano to checkout, only to discover they needed my passport in addition to my credit card.  “¡No passaporte!” I sighed to the store manager.  “Pero . . .” and I showed him my Texas driver’s license.  He took one look at Joe’s pissed-off face and rang up the purchase.  Quickly.

The Boy needed that piano.

Back at home, Joe came around so quickly I thought I saw his head revolve.  I put Karson in his car seat and propped up the piano on the carrier.  Karson accidentally banged the piano.  Sound – music – jumped out at him.  Karson smiled.  He stared at the blinking lights, concentrating, then flailed and hit the piano keyboard again.  Another song played.

Joe moved in closer and straightened the keyboard so Karson would have easier access.  The next time, it appeared that Karson intentionally hit the keyboard.  Cause and Effect!  “He’s a genius,” I murmured.  “A musical genius.  And you know, he’s sensitive to certain noises, like tubas and drums . . . maybe he’s like Barbra Streisand!”  I babbled.  “You know, a musical Einstein!  It won’t matter that he’s short because he’ll be playing in concert halls!”

Watching Karson pound the piano keyboard hooked Joe like a fish.  He rigged a small rope to tie the piano to the carrier so Karson couldn’t knock it off.  He angled Karson and the carrier against table legs and brick walls so in his musical frenzy, Karson wouldn’t push the piano onto the floor.  Along with Outside Time and Reading Time and House of the Rising Sun Computer Time and Massage Time (yes, he got full body massages with lavender lotion) and Television Time and Alone Time, we added Piano Time to our day.

But no, he wasn’t “spoiled.”  We were.

Finally, the day came when the adoption was finalized and Karson was officially our baby.  Well, Kara’s baby.  You know what I mean.

Kara and I stood next to the taxi and she turned Karson toward me.  I nuzzled his neck and once again inhaled his wonderful baby smell.  “Mi corazon, mi corazon,” I whispered to him.  Karson burbled a bit.  This other lady seems to like me a lot and gives me The Milk, too, he said.  I’ll be fine.

Karson was secured in his car seat and Kara and I hugged each other then simultaneously broke into tears.  “Thank you, Mom,” she cried.  “Thank you, sweetie!” I sobbed.

It didn’t really hit me until two weeks later, somewhere in the Caribbean between Cabo Tres Puntas, Guatemala and Escondido Bay, Honduras.  And it was like a ton of bricks fell on my head.  We were motor sailing into 25 knots of wind on the nose and were being tossed like a salad in 4-6-foot seas and I realized that I was not having fun.  “This isn’t fun!” I shouted over the winds to Joe, who was clutching the GPS and trying to figure how dark it would be when we tried to enter an unfamiliar anchorage.

“You’re the one who insisted on a getaway in the boat!” he returned.

I had wanted a symbolic leap from BabyLand to the Cruising; from being responsible land-dwellers to free birds, sailing the Caribbean waters without a care.  The short trip to Honduras made sense at the time.

“You’re not having fun?” asked God. "I’ll show you no fun.”  The day we left the Bay Islands I went down with a raging case of Dengue Fever, exacerbated by infected mosquito bites.  I lay in our bunk, alternately freezing and sweating, and in moments of brief clarity, I would shout at Joe to please put on his harness and safety line. I could hear him and his Sirius talk radio programs up on deck, and occasionally it sounded as if he was tap dancing. He said it was one of our best sails, ever.

Bad health can bring you around to how blessed you are when you have good health.

Joe once said that most people ponder the meaning of their lives and they wonder if there is a reason for their existence.  Then he said that he thought maybe the reason he and I were here, our purpose in this life, had been to nurture that newborn little boy, our nieto.

So I now know what the word “bittersweet” means.  Karson’s adoption went according to plan, without a hitch.  We were blessed with the opportunity to be with this little boy during his first months of life and we were thrilled to be able to hand him over to our daughter, his mother, for care giving throughout the rest of his life.  But yes, it was a difficult transition from living with – no, make that living for – our nieto and then returning to life as we’d known it before.  I don’t suppose we will ever be the same, and I don’t think we should be.

Karson just celebrated his third birthday.  “He wanted a strawberry cake decorated with strawberries,” Sharon said.  “He has stereotypical Guatemalan tastebuds!”  Joe and Sharon Kratz will return to Bocas Del Toro and S/V Rose of Sharon this month.  As a follow-up, Inter-country adoption is in its infancy within the global community.  Governments, regulatory organizations and adoption agencies want what is best for Guatemala’s homeless children but at this time, U.S. adoptions are on hold.  In 2007, approximately 5,000 Guatemalan babies were adopted by citizens of other countries, most of them U.S. families.  Reputable adoption agencies worked closely with Guatemalan authorities and attorneys to protect that country’s adoptive children while joining them with families in the U.S. But abuses existed.  In an effort to protect Guatemala’s homeless children, a plan was put into place.  The plan itself was problematic, and inter-country adoptions between the U.S. and Guatemala came to a screeching halt in 2008.  “When Guatemala adoptions worked, it was the best system in the world,” said one adoption agency executive.  “When it didn’t…it was the worst.”  Sadly, domestic adoptions are almost nonexistent in Guatemala; homeless children do not have much hope for a single-family opportunity.  “The whole system needs to become functional,” said another agency representative.  “In order to meet U.S. requirements, the Guatemalan government has to implement the new process properly, but at this time Guatemala does not have adequate resources nor the funding for that to happen.”

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