Welcome Home | Translation

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Translated by MC Editorial

[Daniel Alarcón]: Hello ambulantes, we are two weeks into the campaign, and the response has been incredible. Thanks to those who have donated, it fills us with joy to see how you have spread the word, the messages you have sent us, and the affection you show us.

But we cannot stop now. We started this campaign with a very clear goal. Until a few days ago, only 1% of our listeners supported Radio Ambulante and El Hilo with a donation. We need to double that figure. Many people have joined, but now we have a very clear request.

If each member brings in one more person, we will achieve our goal. So, think about the friend to whom you shared an episode that moved you, the colleague from work or university with whom you discussed an episode in the cafeteria. Reflect on the family chat where one of our episodes about your country was discussed.

Of those people you know, who could you encourage to become a member? Spread the word to them. Encourage them. Help us double that 1%. That way, we will ensure the future of Radio Ambulante. Give them this link: radioambulante.org/donate.

Thank you. Now let’s continue with the episode. 

This Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón. 

Although three decades have passed, Paula Resnik, from Argentina, remembers every detail of the birth of her first two children. With Lucas she didn’t even realize that she had gone into labor. It was quick. He was born at midnight on April 2, 1991 and everything went well.

Three years later, Mateo arrived. Paula can still hear the cry of her second child at birth and the immediate silence when he was placed on her chest. She also remembers the bag she carried on both occasions. It was made of blue and white patchwork, and her mother had sewn it for her during her first pregnancy so that she could carry the baby’s diapers and other things. And of course, she also clearly remembers the first moments she spent with her newborn children. 

[Paula Resnik]: With each one of them, I had a very, very symbiotic, very close relationship. I breastfed them, I breastfed them both, eight months each. I felt like I was in a parallel world with the baby.

[Daniel]: But the arrival of her third child, a daughter, was totally different. There were no labor pains or clinics. The first time she saw her, Paula was in a shopping mall on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. She was sitting at a counter having a soda, and she was feeling very nervous…

[Paula]: Anxious. Strange. A very strange feeling because, I mean, coming to meet my daughter was unusual.

[Daniel]: A few minutes later, she saw her in the distance… 

[Paula]: And she appeared, tall, very tall. She was 1.75 meters at the time, and I was like, “Ahhh.” 

[Daniel]: She was wearing a red t-shirt, jeans, sneakers and a plaid shirt tied around her waist.

[Paula]: She approached laughing, laughing out loud from anxiety. And I was laughing, too.

[Daniel]: It was 11 a.m. on November 23, 2018. Paula was 53 years old and had been divorced for a long time. Lucas and Mateo were grown up, independent. And just at that moment, when she was starting to have more time for herself, she had decided to be a mom again. She had decided to adopt a 14-year-old girl. Verónica. 

[Paula]: So, I stood up and greeted her. I gave her just a little hug because she was also very rigid, and we looked at each other and laughed.

[Daniel]: Neither of them was very sure what to do or what to say. Verónica was accompanied by her lawyer and the director of the children’s home where she lived. They all sat around the table. Verónica ordered a fruit salad and finally dared to break the ice. 

[Paula]: She looked at me and said,Are those your eyes?” “Yes.” “You don’t wear contact lenses?” “No.My blue eyes had caught her attention.

[Daniel]: Paula gave her a purse that she had sewn herself, and other gifts from her family and friends. Since they couldn’t go with her to that first meeting, it was a way to show that they were close to her. She handed  Verónica a letter she had written and folded into a heart shape. Verónica read it then and there, still laughing and still nervous. The rest of the things, she quickly put away.

After a while at the table, the lawyer and the director of the children’s home gave them permission to take a walk by themselves in the shopping mall. And that’s when Verónica let go:

[Paula]: And she didn’t stop talking. And she told me things, tremendous things. Very strange that she would tell me all that on that day. It seemed as if she was testing me to see whether I would accept all the hardships she had gone through during her life, testing my limits.

[Daniel]: Although Paula tried to hide it, she was shocked. Not only because of the things she told her, but because of Verónica’s ability, at only 14 years old, to verbalize and be so aware of everything that had happened to her. Paula had a thousand thoughts on her mind:

[Paula]: It was a mix of fears and fantasies. And at the same time, an enthusiasm for loving another child. To have a daughter. It was a beautiful and tremendous mix.

[Daniel]: As they walked, Paula held on to her bag, the same blue and white patchwork bag that had accompanied her at the birth of her two sons.

[Paula]: I brought that same bag, which was a way to have a birth, right? To begin the adoption of an older girl. 

[Daniel]: Adopt an older girl with whom she would have to build a bond from scratch.

[Paula]: I never questioned it with Lucas and Mateo. I always loved them, and the love grew and was there. And also the fear of what that relationship was going to be like, of whether I would be able to love her. 

[Daniel]: And not knowing whether it would be reciprocal: whether Verónica could be okay with her and be able to like her. Paula knew the road would not be easy, but she was determined to try.

We’ll be back after a break.

[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. Our producer Aneris Casassus picks up the story.

[Aneris Casassus]: It all started at the movies. One Saturday in July of 2018, Paula went with Mariana, her childhood friend, to see “Joel,” an Argentinean film that tells the story of a couple that has not been able to conceive children and begins the process of adopting a child. When they get the call, the news is not exactly what they expected. There is a child they could adopt, yes, but he is 9 years old, much older than they were willing to accept. Despite that, the couple decides to move forward and meet Joel. I don’t want to spoil too much, but, as you can imagine, the story is about building the bond between that couple and the child, and how hostile society can be. 

[Paula]: When the movie ended, wow, we couldn’t stand up. We stayed there for a long time crying and talking about the reality these kids face.

[Aneris]: Paula stayed a while, talking to Mariana about what they had just seen. Until then, she had never thought about what the wait to find someone to adopt them meant for those children. Worse yet, what happens if they turn 18 and haven’t found a family? She was talking about all this with Mariana when Mariana, a writing teacher in a prison, told her:

[Paula]: Some of these kids go to jail at some point during their journey. It is one of the possibilities for these kids who go out into life alone.

[Aneris]: Paula had not seen any adoption cases close up, and besides, she already had her two children. Motherhood was not an unfinished business at all.

[Paula]: I had never thought about the possibility of adopting a child. It hadn’t been a possibility. I didn’t know anything about it… it wasn’t on my agenda.

[Aneris]: But the film sparked an interest in her to know more about a reality that was alien to her. She thought about the topic and began to investigate. First, on the internet. She was looking for information about what the adoption process was like, what the current laws were. But that search that began almost out of curiosity became a question that she began to repeat to herself over and over again: What if she adopted a child? 

[Paula]: And what happened to me was that at night I had fears and said, “No, no, no, I’m crazy, how can I do that, no, no way.” And then in the morning I would say “Well, sure, why not, nothing’s wrong, I mean, they’re children.”

[Aneris]: She thought that if she had any problems, it would not be very different from the ones she had already experienced raising Lucas and Mateo. She became more and more convinced that she wanted to try it. But before moving forward, she needed to talk to them. So she sent them a message on WhatsApp. This is Mateo:

[Mateo Valderrama]: She sent the message to a group we have, asking when could we get together… what day, what day, and the two of us couldn’t figure out what she wanted to tell us, because she insisted on having that conversation. 

[Aneris]: The three of them agreed to eat together one day. When they sat down at the table, Lucas and Mateo didn’t even let her start talking:

[Paula]: “Are you going somewhere?” “No, no, no.” “But are you sick? Is something wrong?”

[Mateo]: “I have a new partner,” or “I’m getting married…” I don’t know…

[Paula]: They couldn’t imagine; they started throwing out ideas, but no way. Neither one threw out, “We are going to have a little sibling.” Neither of them did.

[Aneris]: It was impossible for them to guess. Finally, Paula told them.

[Paula]: No, they couldn’t believe it. I told them my idea and they said, “What?”

[Mateo]: It didn’t add up that that was what she planned to tell us.

[Aneris]: It seemed very strange to them that their mother was thinking about making this decision just at that moment in her life, when she was beginning to enjoy her freedom. Lucas was 27 years old and had left home. Mateo was 24, and although he still lived with her, he was completely independent. Paula could live her life without having anyone depend on her. If she wanted, she could go away for one, two, three weeks on a trip. She had divorced her children’s father when they were very young and later she had had a few partners, but right then she was single. She had worked for years as a secretary in a company, from Monday to Friday, 9 to 6. The rest of the time, she could do anything she wanted. Going out with her friends to the movies, for example.

If Paula pressed forward with her plan, the change for Mateo would not be minor at all. He would have to live with someone else. But beyond the surprise, Mateo was moved by his mother’s idea. 

[Mateo]: As for me, I started crying at that moment, because it was very exciting. It didn’t register either. For me the idea was sort of… way out there 

[Aneris]: For Lucas too, but anyway…

[Mateo]: We both told her that we would support her, but obviously, we also had, like, fears or doubts. “How are you going to do it?” “And are you ready?” And… I don’t know.

[Aneris]: They were also concerned about the story that that boy or girl might bring with them:

[Mateo]: That he or she was going to come here with a certain way of life or… But anyway, she calmed us by saying that it didn’t matter, that if we supported her and helped her with what she needed, she would be able to solve it.

[Aneris]: After talking for a while, Lucas and Mateo told her they were willing to welcome a sibling into the family.

With the support of her children, Paula took the first step. She signed up for the three mandatory talks before adding her name to the Single Registry of Aspiring Guardians for Adoptive Purposes—RUAGA. There she learned several things. The most important:

[Paula]: Nowadays, adoption is not designed to give a child to a family that cannot have one biologically. It’s the other way around. In other words, adoption is designed to give a family to a child who does not have one.

[Aneris]: In other words, the view of adoption is from the perspective of the children. It is they who have the right to a family and not adults who have the right to a child. It is a perspective that was already included in international regulations, but in Argentina it was expressed in writing in the Civil Code of 2015. Furthermore, the adoption of minors through direct agreement between individuals was prohibited. Every adoption is part of a process regulated by the State.

In those talks, she also learned that more than 85% of the people who sign up in the Registry are willing to adopt children up to three years old. In fact, most people who think about adoption think about babies. But there are very few children of that age for adoption. They are less than 20%, and they find a family quickly. The problem is with older children. As they grow, it becomes more difficult for them to find someone to adopt them.

After the mandatory talks, Paula became even more convinced of her idea and gathered all the documents to sign up for the Registry. She began to fill out a form in which she had to specify in full the conditions of the child that she was willing to accept: age, illnesses and gender, among many other things. She had no doubts about the age. She selected a child between the ages of 13 and 17. She knew very well that she wanted an adolescent. 

[Paula]: What I wanted was precisely to give a chance to a child who couldn’t have it, because no one adopts these kids, literally no one. I was also too old to have a small child. No diapers, done with that.

[Aneris]: She wouldn’t have to deal with diapers, but maybe with other, more difficult things:

[Paula]: You’re also very afraid of an adolescent, right? Because they might have pretty defined traits, I don’t know, from violence or substance use, or very problematic things that, well, until you face them, you don’t know.

[Aneris]: The fears did not stop her, and she continued filling out the form. She ruled out the option of serious illnesses because her work would prevent her from being able to accompany a child who required extreme care. With the gender issue, she hesitated a little more. She immediately imagined a girl because she hadn’t had any daughters. But at the same time, she felt guilty for choosing the gender.

[Paula]: It seemed to me, I don’t know, like choosing a child out of a menu, à la carte, and it looked as if I was choosing a girl.

[Aneris]: But Mateo and Lucas ended up convincing her.

 [Paula]: When I told them this, they said, “Look, you are already choosing, because you are saying that they should be over 13 years old, you are saying that they should not have a profound disability, that they should not… You are choosing. So why don’t you go ahead and choose one more thing?” 

[Mateo]: She was pretty involved in the feminist movement and it was like, well, why don’t you share this with someone? What better than your daughter?

[Paula]: And well… Sure, it’s true…

[Aneris]: So she checked “female”, finished filling out the form, and uploaded all the documents requested by the website. A few days later, she was contacted for a psychological interview. Then they visited her house to do a socio-environmental analysis and confirm whether it was possible to have someone else live there. They also wanted to interview Lucas and Mateo.

[Mateo]: What we did with our lives; what living together was like; what we did; our relationship with other family members…

[Aneris]: Once the Registry professionals finished reviewing everything, Paula would be officially registered on the list of adopters.

But while she was waiting for the final OK, something happened. One day the phone rang at work. Paula, as always, answered. It was her boss’s wife, with whom she had a very good relationship. She was a lawyer and worked representing children. That’s why, when they started chatting, Paula was encouraged to tell her what she was up to. 

[Paula]: So I say to her, “Um, do you know I’m going to adopt an adolescent?” And she says, “Oh, I can’t believe it, Paula, this is a sign. A public call has just been signed for a girl I represent, and she is a sweetheart. You have to meet her.” 

[Aneris]: And here, so that you better understand what is meant by “public call,” I am going to tell you a little more about how the adoption system works in Argentina. First of all, you need to know that it is the justice system that declares the so-called “adoptable status” of a minor. That can happen when a child’s parents die, for example, and there is no other family member to care for them. Or when the biological parents decide to give the child up for adoption. But also when the State notices situations of violence, abuse or abandonment, and removes a child from their biological family for their own protection after exhausting all possibilities to modify that situation. Those children live in homes for minors, and the authorities in charge of the cases are constantly cross-referencing their data with the data on the Adopter Registry. They try to find the best family for each child. Because, just as people who want to adopt set their requirements, the children—depending on their age and degree of maturity—also give their opinion on what type of family they would like to have. From the age of ten, their consent is mandatory.

However, that search often fails—and not for mathematical reasons. In 2020, for example, there were 2,199 children eligible for adoption in Argentina and some 3,133 people on the Adopter Registry. But, as we already said, most of them are willing to adopt only children up to three years old. Then, if no one is found in the Registry, a public call is made as a last resort to find a family for that child. The search is published in the news and on social media to try to find a candidate outside the Registry. Very little information about the child is given in the call: a fictitious name or just initials, age, the city where the child lives, and a couple of character traits.

The public call for the girl Paula’s boss’s wife was talking about said that her name began with a V, that she was 14 years old, that she was cheerful, and that she would like to keep in touch with her biological siblings. Paula got excited. Maybe things would happen much faster than she had imagined. A few days later, she went to the court that appeared in the public call. They interviewed her for the first time and told her a little more about the girl. There she was told her real name.

[Paula]: It shocked me because her name is Verónica, and when I was young, I said I wanted to be called Verónica. When I played, I gave myself that name.  

[Aneris]: It seemed like another sign.

In that interview, they told her that Verónica had been living in different children’s homes for four years. When she was 10, the justice system removed her and seven other siblings from the house where they lived with their parents due to situations of neglect. She is the third child and oldest of the girls. At first, the eight siblings lived together in the same home, but later they were separated by ages into different institutions. After they were placed in those homes, their parents had two other children whom the siblings did not get to meet because they were adopted by a couple while they were still babies.

Although Verónica had a rough background, Paula was not intimidated. When the interview was over, she said that she wanted to continue moving forward with the process. Now it was time for them to ask Verónica whether she was interested in meeting Paula in order to begin what is called a “bonding process,” a period of time prior to the adoption, during which they get to know each other little by little. Verónica was somewhat disheartened with the whole idea, because some time ago she had begun a bonding with a woman who had no children and wished to adopt her, but things did not work out and the process didn’t move forward. Despite that, when told there was another woman who wanted to meet her, she accepted.

Paula was summoned by the court for two more interviews. Since they had already done the psychological evaluation and had visited her house, almost everything was ready for them to meet. But before that, Paula needed to share the news with the rest of her family.

In October, everyone gathered at her mother’s house to celebrate Mother’s Day. There were Lucas and Mateo, one of her two brothers, and her nephews. They were talking at the table until Paula, without any further ado, looked at her mother and said: 

[Paula]: “I have some news.” “What is it?” “You are going to have a granddaughter.” “Oh, a great-granddaughter, you mean.” She thought that Lucas or Mateo was going to have a child. “A great granddaughter?” “No, a granddaughter.” “How is that possible?” ”A granddaughter by me. My daughter.” 

[Aneris]: Her mother couldn’t believe it. She didn’t understand at all. She asked why she was doing that and said she was going to have a lot of problems. But Paula calmed her; she assured her that everything was going to be all right. And furthermore, she assured her that nothing they said would change her mind. After the surprise, her mother told her that she would support her in everything she needed. The rest of the family did, too.

A month later, Paula was at the shopping mall waiting to meet Verónica for the first time—the scene that began this story. It had been only four months since she had gone to the cinema to watch that movie. Not even half as long as a pregnancy takes. 

That meeting, at which they could not stop laughing because of how nervous they were, did not last more than an hour, and then they were both asked separately how they had felt and whether they were willing to see each other again. Both said yes.

We wanted to talk to Verónica while we were reporting this story, but she didn’t feel like being interviewed. But she did agree to answer some questions that we suggested for Paula to ask her. Like, for example, what she remembered from that day. Here are Paula and Verónica:

[Paula]: What do you remember from the first time you saw me that day at the mall? Did you like me right away, what did you think of me?

[Verónica Resnik]: Um… I thought I liked you. Umm, honestly, I never thought you would be so nice.

[Aneris]: There were three or four more meetings at different shopping malls. Verónica always arrived accompanied by the director of the children’s home and the lawyer. When they were given permission, the two of them would walk alone for a while, to talk. Verónica would talk to Paula about her best friend from the children’s home, about the music she liked. But especially about her siblings. 

[Verónica]: The bond between my siblings and me is very strong, much stronger than any other bond. I’m not saying… I’m not underestimating other bonds, but I’m saying that I was always closer to my siblings than to my parents.

[Aneris]: Although she saw them every now and then, it had been a while since she had lived with any of them, and she missed them very much.

Paula also started calling her at the children’s home, but it wasn’t that easy. She could only call at specific times. At the time, Verónica was living in a house for mothers and children who were victims of violence. For confidentiality reasons, Paula couldn’t go visit her. She didn’t even know its exact location, only that it was in Del Viso, a town about 40 kilometers from Buenos Aires, where she lived.

Because of her living conditions, Verónica led a rather isolated life. She was picked up in a van to go to school every day, but beyond that, she couldn’t have much of a social life. She missed out on birthdays and outings with her classmates, for example.

Since things were going very well between them, they took the next step: Verónica would go to see Paula’s house, which—if everything continued the way it was going—would also be hers. She would also meet Lucas and Mateo, her future brothers. It was going to be a very special day for everyone.

[Mateo]: We fixed up the whole house. We cleaned everything. We were anxious.

[Aneris]: Until finally, Verónica arrived.

[Mateo]: She was much calmer than we were. I mean, she was making jokes. She talked, she made conversation. She went around the house; she put on… she put on some hats that my mom has there.

[Aneris]: They showed her the room that would be hers. Mateo had decided to give her his room and move to a smaller one so that she would be more comfortable. They had lunch together at home, and then they wanted her to get to know the neighbourhood. Paula lives in an area with a lot of buildings, near a street full of shops. 

[Paula]: That first day, we went for a walk. We were very impressed because she talked to everyone. The cars stopped at that traffic light, and she would say, “What’s up? How is it going?” “She’s going to go off with someone,” I said.

[Aneris]:  Verónica had only rarely been to the city of Buenos Aires. It was a totally different world for her.

[Mateo]: She had no idea how to move on the street, where to cross, when to cross. 

[Aneris]: And from that walk he remembers that when they walked by a grocery store, Verónica—without being seen—grabbed a plum… 

[Mateo]: Half a block later we asked, “Where did you get that?” “Oh, I took it from there.”

[Aneris]: Paula had to go back to the grocery store, apologize, and pay.

[Paula]: She knew better than to do that, right? She did it to show that she was tough. 

[Mateo]: She wanted attention all the time. She was like that; she was spicy, she was pretty daring, I don’t know.

[Aneris]: When they returned from the walk, they spent a long time in the patio. 

[Verónica]: I remember we had music on and we started dancing. Everyone was very nice, very happy. 

[Aneris]: Verónica played some reggaeton, Mateo trap, Lucas some cumbia and some rock classics: Pink Floyd, Queen… Paula went for something calmer: songs by Joaquín Sabina and some other Latin artists. They were dancing and singing. It was as if music helped them, little by little, to begin getting to know each other, to reduce that immense distance that still separated them. That same afternoon, before returning home, Verónica wrote a letter to Lucas and Mateo. She told them that it had been one of the happiest days of her life.

[Aneris]: After getting to know her house, the relationship between Paula and Verónica continued very well, and she began to spend the weekends with her. They went for walks, chatted, spent time watching series or movies with Mateo. But Paula clearly saw that Verónica wanted to continue seeing her siblings, and she was willing to support her in that. So one of those weekends, she contacted this person: 

[Victoria Roncagliolo]: My name is Victoria, yes. They call me Vicky from a very young age.

[Aneris]: Two years earlier, in 2016, Vicky Roncagliolo and her husband had adopted three of Verónica’s younger siblings, who were 8, 6 and 4 years old at the time. They had intended from the beginning that the children remain in contact with the rest of their biological siblings. As soon as they moved into their house, they began to talk to the homes where each of them was and asked permission to visit. Vicky has a clear memory of the day she met Verónica. She was 12 years old.

[Vicky]: Vero was… she was like everyone’s mother. Although very young, she was like everyone’s mother. And something that always moved me from the beginning is her enormous generosity towards me, such as giving me her siblings.

[Aneris]: She could have felt jealous, or refused to accept that her younger siblings went with another family. Instead, she told them to behave well, to listen to Vicky in everything, that she was there to take care of them. During those two years, Vicky and the children paid regular visits to Verónica at her home until one day, around Christmas 2018,  Verónica told them that she was meeting with Paula and that things were going very well. That if everything continued like that, she would soon move into Paula’s house. Her siblings jumped for joy at the news. 

[Vicky]: “Oh, Vero got a mom! Now Vero has a mom, now Vero has a mom, now Vero has a mom!” And also because, well, now we will be able to see each other, like in some way it would be easier to see each other more. 

[Aneris]: See each other without intermediaries, without the need to ask permission at the children’s home.

That weekend, when Paula called Vicky and they spoke for the first time, they organized a meeting for Verónica to see her three younger siblings. 

[Paula]: They came to my house, and we went to a city square with all the kids, and we couldn’t stop talking. We couldn’t stop talking, both of us talking. 

[Aneris]: The two women immediately formed a very special bond. That reassured Verónica, because she knew that if she went to live with Paula, she would be able to continue seeing her siblings without any problems. Paula also told her that whenever she wanted, she could invite her other siblings who still lived at different homes.

Finally, after spending a few weekends together, on January 18, 2019, two months after seeing meeting for the first time, Verónica moved into Paula’s home permanently. Mateo and Lucas were waiting for her with a huge sign that said, “Welcome to your home.” It was the beginning of a new family.

Paula knew that at that stage what she would need most would be time—a lot of time. First, for practical things, so to speak. For example, taking Verónica to dozens of doctors because she didn’t even have a medical history, getting a psychologist, teaching her how to get around the neighborhood, finding her a school. But also time to build their bond. She needed to be with her, get to know her a little more every day, gain her trust. She explained her situation at work and managed to get a six-month leave.

The dynamics of the house also had to be rethought. Paula sat down with Mateo and Verónica to negotiate the rules of coexistence among the three of them. Each one proposed rules, and they made a kind of contract. 

[Mateo]: It was logical that we had to discuss the rules. Maybe for her to understand that I was also accepting them, as if to say, “Well, it’s not just you, Vero, who has to follow the rules; it’s all of us.” 

[Aneris]: They were basic things, like respecting each other, moving carefully on the street, letting her know if they would be home late. Little by little, Paula and Mateo began to realize that even the simplest things were totally surprising to Verónica.

[Paula]: For her, to have a room to herself was like a Disney story. 

[Aneris]: It was the first time that she had her own space, that she could close the door and be alone for a while. 

[Paula]: She had a lot of siblings and then at the children’s homes there were a lot of kids in each room. So that was the best part. 

[Aneris]: But it was not the only thing; there were many more examples: 

[Mateo]: She didn’t know how to handle money. And I did since I was little, you know? My mother would tell me, “Take this to go to school, buy something for yourself, take the bus.” Or also, for example, the issue of time. I mean, she didn’t know how to read a clock. She didn’t understand the idea of half past, a quarter of, she didn’t get that concept. 

[Aneris]: Even though she had gone to school, there were a lot of things like that, that she didn’t understand. So during those first days, Mateo began to teach her how to tell the time, how to handle money, and also how to navigate the street using the cell phone map.

[Mateo]: We even did tests. “OK, we are here. Now how do we get back home?”

[Aneris]: Until then, Verónica had not had a grandmother, either. A few days after her arrival, Paula invited her mother to lunch so they could get to know each other. She still remembers her mother’s reaction that day: 

[Paula]: My mother arrived, and Verónica went to greet her as if she had known her her all her life; and she spoke to her, as she had a way of speaking, like posing, like she wanted to seem like she was a girl from the street, so she liked to say, “Hey you, how are you doing, what are you up to.” And my mom, who is shy, was astonished, like she couldn’t believe it.

[Aneris]: Once at the table, while they were having a barbecue, Verónica began to swear and yell… 

[Mateo]: She wanted to… I don’t know how to say it, like scare us from the beginning as if to… I don’t know, I think as a defense mechanism to say, “Look, I’m conflictive. I’m spicy. You’re going to have to put up with me.” I mean, it was like… she tested us. 

[Aneris]: She recognizes that, herself. 

[Verónica]: And, well, I was very loud. It was all very new to me because imaginefour years in a home having no relationship with anyone, only with the kids in the home. It was difficult.

[Aneris]: But, with a lot of patience and effort to understand her, they were sure they could pass that test. And in the middle of that whirlwind that was changing the entire family, something important had to be resolved. In just a few days, Verónica would turn 15, and it couldn’t be just a day like any other day. Paula had been asking her what she wanted to do, but she was undecided:

[Paula]: One day she told me, “I do want a party, I want a long dress, I want a hairdo and makeup, I want a party.” And the next day she said, “No, no, I don’t want anything.” It was like that for a few days, until I said, “Well, let’s do it.” 

[Aneris]: They organized a get-together at home. It would a sort of introduction of the new family before society.

Verónica wore a long, champagne-colored gown and gold shoes. She waited in the patio with her best friend from the children’s home until all the guests arrived. 

[Paula]: And then she came in with her little crown and her hairdo.

[Aneris]: There were about 70 people packed into the house. Paula’s entire family was there, her lifelong friends, a dozen friends from Verónica’s home, two of her siblings who lived in homes, and of course, Vicky and the three younger siblings…

[Vicky]: Vero looked beautiful and they were happy. Very happy to be together.

[Aneris]: They ate, danced, sang karaoke…

When the party was over and everyone left, Verónica began to open her gifts. Paula went to share that moment with her and noticed that she had removed all the labels. 

[Paula]: “Oh,” I told her, “don’t, what if you have to exchange a pair of pants, for example. Then what?” “You mean I shouldn’t remove the labels yet?” Well, she had no idea. Of course, she just ripped them open… a silly thing, but well, it seemed like she didn’t take anything into account. She had no idea. “What do you mean by exchanging a gift?” “Choosing.” This thing about choosing. It was a completely new concept.

[Aneris]: Shortly after her birthday, Verónica started classes. Paula had enrolled her in a public school very close to her house. Since she had repeated two grades during primary school, she was enrolled in the first year of secondary school, two years below the level for her age. Paula walked her to school the first few days, and then Verónica learned the way and began to go by herself. Since she was way behind in the content, she was assigned an individual pedagogical project and she began to have a personal companion at school, who helped her catch up. Paula encouraged her to invite her classmates to lunch at her house after class so she could begin to socialize better. A couple of days a week, Verónica came home with a couple of friends and they ate together until it was time to go back to school, for physical education class. But at school she also wanted to be seen as a tough girl. For fear of being attacked, she attacked first. Whenever she sensed that one of the boys might say something annoying to her or one of her classmates, she immediately began to confront him.

[Paula]: Instead of defending, she went on the attack first; she preferred to be confrontational.

[Aneris]: And any limit they tried to put on her was in vain. 

[Mateo]: She did not understand authority, so to speak, or the relationship with a teacher, with a mother, with a principal.

[Aneris]: The teachers called Paula. They said that Verónica had the entire class in turmoil, and urged her to please do something.

[Paula]: They even asked me why I didn’t send her to a school with kids like her. That was terrible, and I asked them, “And what are those kids like?”, you know?

[Aneris]: Mateo recalls that Verónica used to come home very angry. And he was also very hurt by the situation. 

[Mateo]: They made her doubt whether she really belonged there, and that… kind of upset us, the fact that, I don’t know, they questioned whether she could be there or not. 

[Aneris]: Although she knew that things were not going smoothly, Paula was living happily at home, and Paula and failed to foresee what happened a few weeks later.

It was right around Paula’s 54th birthday, two months after Verónica moved in. They were having lunch at home with Lucas and Mateo when Verónica suddenly…

[Paula]: She literally put the hood up that day. She sat there and she got serious, she told me, “I want to leave, I want to leave. I don’t know why, I can’t stand it any longer.”

[Aneris]: Paula felt desperate.

[Paula]: It was very hard. I was shaking. That’s when I started boo-hoo. Everything fell apart and I said, “She’s leaving,” because I knew they would listen to her. When a child wants to leave, they can leave.

[Mateo]: And of course it made my mother very sad. When she got that sadness or fear that Verónica would leave, she realized that Vero had become important in her life and that she loved her.

[Aneris]: That fear that Paula had felt the first time she saw her—whether she would be able to love her or not—no longer existed. But the other fear—that Verónica might not want to be with her—was still there. Now she knew that if Verónica went away, she would be left with a huge, indescribable emptiness. The same one that she would feel if she lost Lucas or Mateo. It already felt like she was her daughter, and Paula would do whatever she could to keep her at home. 

We’ll be back after a break.

[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón. 

Before the break, we heard the story of Paula Resnik, a woman who, at age 53 and with two grown children, decided to adopt Verónica, a 14-year-old teenager. They had been living together for two months when the first crisis happened and Verónica said that she couldn’t take it anymore, that he wanted to leave.

Aneris Casassus continues the story.

[Aneris]: Paula did not understand what was happening. Verónica’s attitude had taken her completely by surprise.

[Paula]: It’s not that she had been complaining or that there were things that were wrong; it seemed that everything was fine, so why suddenly say “I want to leave.” 

[Aneris]: Besides what was happening at school, she had never complained about Paula, Mateo or their life together. While Verónica continued sitting on the couch with her hood up, Paula asked her what she was feeling, whether she had been bothered by anything in particular. But all she said was:

[Paula]: That she didn’t want to be loved, that she wanted to be in a home, that it was like everything was more depersonalized, right? Like, it was too strong for her. 

[Aneris]: It was a very big life change. In her first years of childhood, she had been like the mother of her siblings, and then came the four years in homes, living with other children. Now, suddenly, she was a daughter. A daughter they took care of. But it was not easy for Verónica. It was even difficult for her to receive hugs.

[Paula]: Trusting an adult is very difficult for her and for all the children who go through these situations, because adults had always failed her.

[Aneris]: Paula also suspected that what Verónica felt was some kind of guilt because some of her siblings were still in homes, unable to find a family. She was having a hard time dealing with so many emotions. This is Verónica:

[Verónica]: It was hard. There were many feelings. Ups and downs and… and I wanted to leave because… because I thought it would be for the best. I don’t know. Just leave. 

[Aneris]: Paula knew that whatever they said to her at that moment could be decisive. It was their first crisis and she, along with Lucas and Mateo, had to be firm as a family. Mateo recalls that he told her…

[Mateo]: Even if she felt that way, we were going to support her and we were going to face it together, let’s say. I mean, we didn’t intend for everything we had built to fall apart. I guess she didn’t either. But hey, I also understand that she had already begun to realize everything, and it scared her.

[Paula]: So, well, we told her, “Look, we understand that it is difficult for you. But you are my daughter and children are not returnable. You are my daughter now; this is your home.” 

[Aneris]: Although, to be precise, legally she wasn’t yet. Verónica was in what is called the guardianship period. This is a period of up to six months that is established to check that the child integrates well into the new family before going on to the legal trial for final adoption.

[Paula]: And well, she spent several days maintaining this position, and I also continued with my bedrock phrase that children are not returnable, and that I understand you and I can help you—but here at home. I’ll accompany you wherever you go. Let’s go see whomever you want to see and everything. But no, no, you can’t leave.

[Aneris]: She repeated that whenever Verónica’s wanted, she could go visit her siblings or she could also invite them to the house. She didn’t want her to doubt that she would help her stay close to them.

Little by little, that first crisis passed for Verónica, and over time Paula would discover that it was no coincidence that it happened on her birthday. Paula told me that birthdays hit Verónica hard emotionally. Perhaps because, amid so many unmet needs and unpleasant experiences, birthdays are one of the few beautiful memories that she keeps from her childhood. Every time one of her siblings had a birthday, at her house they somehow managed to get a cake, blow out the candles, and celebrate.

During the months that followed, Verónica continued to adapt to her new life. Her bond with Paula was getting better and better. She was also building a nice relationship with Lucas and Mateo. They were beginning to have sibling codes. 

[Mateo]: I would tell her anything about something that had happened to me, and she would jump up to defend me, and she said, “What’s up with that? I’ll go kill him, you understand?” Or… or she took care of me like she took care of her siblings. There are times when we look at each other and laugh our asses off because… I don’t know, maybe something happens with Paula. Paula gets mad for some silly reason. With Paula… well, with mom. So we look at each other and laugh.

[Aneris]: And with the grandmother, who had been a little scared at first, they would often get together for afternoon tea. Verónica wanted to know more about that whole ceremony that her grandmother conducted so carefully—how to arrange the cups, where to put the teaspoon… The grandmother happily explained to her. Soon, Verónica had bonded with her completely. She was very affectionate with her.

At school things also began to improve.

[Paula]: She began to take a liking to responsibility, to fulfilling her duties, to arriving on time.

To be more cautious, to think things through. To think twice, to value another kind of dialogue.

[Aneris]: Meanwhile, Paula and Vicky—the adoptive mother of the three younger siblings—continued arranging meetings for the kids to see each other. They looked for the other siblings who still lived in the homes, and added them to the plans. They went for walks, to a city square, to the cinema. Seeing them so happy when they were together gave them the certainty that they should do everything possible to keep them together.

And for Paula and Vicky, it was also a way of comforting each other. Of sharing the fears and challenges that motherhood presented them with. The problems that came up in their homes were very similar, and they were able to support each other and exchange ideas on the best way to deal with them. Whenever they got together, they didn’t stop talking, and the rest of the time they were in constant touch via chat, listening to each other, knowing that they would never judge one another. Strengthening a bond for which there is no name.

[Paula]: We say comadres because that is what it seems to be, the closest thing to reality, but there really is no word for that bond. It is something very intimate, because our children are biological siblings on the side of their mother and their father. So there is something that unites us beyond everything else, and that… and that makes us understand a lot about the kids and what happens to both of us and to our families. 

[Aneris]: Also sharing the pieces of information they each had. They had been able to read some files, the children had shared certain things, but there were still many gaps in their children’s histories. Each piece of information was another piece of a puzzle that Vicky treasured like gold:

[Vicky]: I have an entire notebook written down with a lot of dates and things that she finds out or that I found out at some point.

[Aneris]: Because they know that sooner or later, their children will want to go back to their beginnings, and they want to be able to give them as many answers as possible.

That was exactly what happened to Verónica a year after coming to Paula’s home. For her 16th birthday, she asked for something special as a gift: she wanted to see her biological mother, Carolina, again. During the four years she had lived in children’s homes, she had seen her only once. Paula told me that she had been angry at her for a long time, but that over time she had begun to understand her a little more. Paula had always been open to talking about her, but she was still a little shocked by Verónica’s request. 

[Paula]: Vero thought I was going to be jealous, and she told me so. “You are jealous of Carolina,” she tells me. “No, how could I be jealous?”

[Aneris]: It wasn’t jealousy, or fear. But there is a kind of uncertainty about how that meeting could turn out. Anyway, she accepted. Paula had to obtain a special authorization from the court because Carolina could not be in contact with Verónica or the rest of her children. They gave it to her, and on Verónica’s birthday, the three of them agreed to meet at the Retiro train station, and travel together to Puerto de Frutos, a market by the river.

[Paula]: We met on the platform. They gave each other a very gentle hug. A kiss. Well, we got on a train, and during the trip Carolina was very excited and she kept telling me, “Oh, how pretty Vero is, how pretty Vero is, thank you for taking care of her.” 

[Aneris]: When they arrived, they went to have a snack at the market. They asked for a cake to blow out the candles. Paula remembers that Verónica was very calm, talking… happy with the gifts that Carolina had brought her—makeup, hair clips and some other things. And Carolina couldn’t stop thanking her.

[Paula]: She kept thanking me all the time for how well  Verónica was doing, for how well she treated her, because she said,  “She used to be kind of rebellious towards me and now she treats me well.”

For me it was very strange, but it was also… it was restorative to meet her and see that she was an affectionate, sensitive woman, that what she had not done was because she had not been able to. Well, she couldn’t, I’m here, but now the two of us together are here for Vero.

[Aneris]: The spectre of the war between the biological mother and the adoptive mother, the one that Verónica had heard about so many times in the homes she had passed through, had no place in this, her story. 

[Verónica]: And with my biological mother, thank God we have a great opportunity on both sides to be able to continue communicating and loving each other as mother and daughter.

[Aneris]: And that was, ultimately, the best birthday gift she could have received.

But shortly after her reunion with her biological mother—when it seemed like she was much more settled into her new life—Verónica exploded again. It was during 2020, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mateo has a clear recollection of it:

[Mateo]: Maybe it was hard for her, overnight, to be living together 24/7, with two people that perhaps she hadn’t known for a long time, and I suppose that also sparked doubts or uncertainties for her.

[Aneris]: Again she started to say that she wanted to leave. Verónica was also being affected by something that one of her biological brothers was going through. He had started to bond with a family, but things didn’t work out and he had returned to the children’s home. And she couldn’t even go visit him because we were in the middle of a lock-down. 

She seemed more determined this time, and she wanted to talk to her lawyer. She told her that she wanted to return to a home, that she was finding it very difficult to live with a family and be in a place where limits were set for her. She even wrote a letter to the judge, but the lawyer told her that no move could be made just then because of the quarantine restrictions, that she had to wait a little.

And Paula—who had learned a lot from that first crisis—insisted with the phrase that would become her signature weapon: children are not returnable. 

[Paula]: And it went away, it went away little by little, and after that it seemed to become completely unconditional, and then she felt relaxed, calm. She began to express that she loves us and that she is happy and values family. And in fact, she started to behave like that, like she is part of the family. 

[Aneris]: We asked Paula to ask Verónica about these moments of crisis.

[Paula]: And there were two times when you wanted to leave home. Why? What did you feel? What made you change your mind?

[Verónica]: What was difficult was for me to stay and for me to understand that, well, as you say, children are non-returnable, so I was convinced that you would not let me go, that you were going to be with me through thick and thin, and that you were always going to be there. To open my eyes to see that it was for the best, wait and let the waters calm down a little. And well, we were able to get over it.

[Aneris]: After a year and a half together, she was taking off her “tough girl” costume to show herself as she was: just a girl.

[Paula]: The fact that she comes to give me a kiss every night before going to bed. The fact that she’s willing to receive hugs. That is, whoa, a huge step forward!

[Aneris]: Finally, everything was starting to flow.

Then they received very good news. One of Verónica’s sisters who was still living in a home had also found a family. She was adopted by a couple who already had two biological daughters. Soon Paula and Vicky met the new parents. More and more families were united by these siblings, so they set up a WhatsApp group to stay connected and continue organizing meetings between the children. They called it “Wonder Siblings.”

In March 2023, when I spoke with Paula on the phone for the first time, she was very excited because that Sunday Verónica and her biological siblings were going to meet for the first time with the two youngest, the ones who had been born after they had left home, the ones who had been given up for adoption as babies. Verónica had insisted on meeting them. Vicky’s children did, too. They were by then 7 and 8 years old. They all agreed to meet at a park.

[Paula]: A very hot afternoon. We had a picnic and, well, they played ball, tag, carousel, games and, well, like they had always known one another. 

[Aneris]: And it is in those meetings when it seems that everything begins to resolve. Here’s Vicky again: 

[Vicky]: The pain of separation between siblings is always there. It’s not enough to have a mom and a dad. It goes away when we are all there. 

[Aneris]: Like that hot afternoon at that park in Buenos Aires.

When the verdict was handed down at Verónica’s adoption trial, they asked her what surname she wanted to have. She said Paula’s, Resnik, and she kept her other surname as her second. 

[Paula]: It was very emotional for me. It was more important than I ever thought it would be. The fact that she chose to have my surname was… it was beautiful. 

[Aneris]: Although she has never been able to call her mamá

[Paula]: From the very beginning she told me, “I’m not going to call you mamá.” “That’s fine, I understand. You’re pretty old now to suddenly call me mamá, it’s okay.”

[Aneris]: A few months went by before Verónica found a name for her. She now calls her “Resnik”, and they both love it. 

[Paula]: Because Lucas and Mateo don’t have my family name; they have their father’s family name. So that’s her own thing. And well, she gave it a kind of tender touch.

[Aneris]: Paula was not there when Verónica learned to walk or when she said her first words. She missed many first times, but she experienced others as intensely as those would have been. 

[Paula]: Being her mother made me experience things differently, with a different sensitivity. It’s like one experiences emotional things every day…

[Aneris]: Like when she took her to the theater for the first time, or to see the ocean. Meanwhile, they began to develop similar tastes. They both really like golf sauce. And many people tell them that they have a similar smile. 

[Daniel]: Today Verónica is 19 years old and is finishing high school. She has a very good relationship with Carolina, her biological mother. With Paula, too. They have seen each other several more times and talk on WhatsApp almost daily.

A while ago, Mateo went to live on his own, but he didn’t want to go too far. He lives in the apartment next door, so he doesn’t miss Paula and Verónica too much.

Paula is part of the #adoptenniñesgrandes collective, an initiative that emerged on social media.

Our thanks to Itatí Canido, from the Council for the Rights of Children and Adolescents of the City of Buenos Aires, whom we also interviewed for this story.

Aneris Casassus is a producer for Radio Ambulante and lives in Buenos Aires. This episode was edited by Camila Segura. Bruno Scelza did the fact-checking. The sound design is by Andrés Azpiri, with music by Ana Tuirán.

The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Lisette Arévalo, Pablo Argüelles, Adriana Bernal, Diego Corzo, Emilia Erbetta, Rémy Lozano, Selene Mazón, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Melisa Rabanales, Natalia Ramírez, Natalia Sánchez Loayza, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Luis Fernando Vargas.

Carolina Guerrero is the CEO. 

Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program. 

Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.

CREDITS

PRODUCED BY
Aneris Cassasus


EDITED BY
Camila Segura


FACT CHECKING
Bruno Scelza


SOUND DESIGN
Andrés Azpiri 


MUSIC
Ana Tuirán 


ILLUSTRATION
María José Pita


COUNTRY
Argentina


SEASON 13
Episode 12


PUBLISHED ON
12/05/2023

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