Ann Carter, a single, career woman, tells us what she experienced over a period of 14 years beginning with considering, at age 43, adopting a child; at age 46 actually adopting one; then two years later, a second toddler; and then rearing them.
She does this by showing us photos that she took of them and by quoting e-mails, journal entries, letters and free verse poetry that she wrote from 1996 to 2010. She did not write any accompanying narrative.
When Carter began to think of taking on a child, she had the usual concerns of any prospective parent, but particularly those of an adoptive one: What would be involved? Would her application be accepted by the authorities? What sort of child would she get? Would she be able to rear a child properly? What would other people, including her aged parents, think of her oriental child? And so on.
In 1998, she traveled to China and adopted a two-year-old girl whom she named “Helen,” after her favorite aunt.
Her experience was favorable enough that two years later, she traveled to Vietnam to adopt Rose. But the Chinese were no longer allowing adoptions.
While single motherhood has become common in the U.S. — over half of today’s babies are born to single women, and increasing numbers of single women are adopting children — this was not so much the case in 1996.
Being a single mother is not an easy life, as Carter tells us. The course of childhood development in its broad outlines is well known, but each parent has to deal with his or her child’s peculiarities as best as he or she can. Carter, a first time single parent had no experienced relatives close by to go to for help, advice, and support, and instead had to depend on friends and any number of books on the subject.
In addition to these sources of help and wisdom, Carter had the further benefit of a psychotherapist and psychotropic medication to help her to cope. She, and her children, also had various pets and livestock to help and comfort them.
As we read “Spiders,” we see her gaining self-confidence while she learns to parent and to deal with her children as they grow up.
She seems to have done it well, for as of the book’s writing, Helen was in middle school and Rose was in upper grade school; they were doing reasonably well there and in their communities.
Carter managed to keep her sanity and to keep functioning at her various life tasks as well as to produce children’s books, poems, and paintings.
In all, “Spiders from Heaven” is a simple, heart-warming, and enjoyable book. Although it is 293 pages long, it is a quick read because most of the pages are not full, the poems are short, and each of the 21 chapters begins with a photo of one of the children.
Manhattan area readers will recognize many of the places that Carter mentions.
The title comes from the book’s dedication which says, “My father… showed me that even spiders come from heaven.” The next to the last poem is titled “Spiders from Heaven.”
Ann L. Carter is a Riley County resident who teaches ESL at KSU. She writes poetry and children’s books and also paints. Her website is annlcarter.com.
Christopher Banner is a Manhattan resident and is emeritus senior specialist in music from KSU.