Auntie Jo and Auntie Anne came over and we canned marmalade for the first time. The oranges are dripping off the trees in our backyard and I wanted to do something with them. We traded off peeling and stirring and boiling and playing with T-Bone. It occurred to me that this is how it’s meant to be done. Taking care of babies was never meant to be a one or even a two person job. With the extended family around, the childcare and the cooking (and the occasional email) and all the stuff that often seems overwhelming becomes effortless.
Lest you feel the urge to mock my canning, let me remind you that DIY doesn’t stand for “bought at Hot Topic.” It stands for Do It Yourself- the punk credo. By that criteria, canning is punk as fuck.
Here is a picture of my neighbor Suzanne and me (and a massive piece of Mani’s carrot cake) at T-Bone’s party. Three days later, after a confident assurance from her doctor that she was not- no way, no how- going into early labor with her twins, her noble husband Greg left to argue a voting rights case in San Francisco. You guessed correctly. Five AM Wednesday morning I get a call from Suzanne and run across the street to help her change her now-wet socks and drive her to Cedars.
Scott’s comment: “She wants YOU to drive her to the hospital?” He’s such a dick about my driving.
I got her there safely, with only a few questionable red light scenarios. The midwife met us on the third floor and the three of us hung out while a couple of tiny beings got ready to swim out into the morning light. The labor progressed quickly and I was all suited up and ready to go into the operating room with her when her husband came running down the hall, pulling off his tie. I passed the torch and their daughter was born about four minutes later, followed shortly by her brother. They were tiny and perfect and able to go home the next day. So dramatic. If you wrote this stuff, it would be corny. As it was, it was awesome. I was honored.
Of the myriad wondrous and magical things about Tariku, near the top of the list is his amenability to my choice in hats.
T-Bone’s birthday on March 6 was the Mount Royal social event of the year. The mini-monarch seems to love parties and to thrive in social situations, particularly when he’s the center of attention. All the neighbors flocked to smooch the king. They had to arm wrestle his grandparents to get near him, but they’re a burly crowd and everyone got a proper audience.
My neighborhood makes me feel like I’m in the opening scene of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure- where Pee-Wee is riding his shiny red bike down the street and all his neighbors are waving to him from their florescent green front lawns. Eagle Rock is this idyllic little corner of the world sandwiched between about sixty freeways. On our block, a grab bag of weirdos and totally normal folks and sweet grandmas and zombie-obsessed rockers and hairdressers and artists and mortgage brokers all bond in a common obsession for old-fashioned neighborly kindness. I am here to tell you that there are still people in LA who hang out together on their front lawns in the early evening and show up at each other’s kids’ birthday parties. It’s so transgressive. I love it.
Friday will be Tariku’s first birthday. I bought him a tiny crown for the occasion. My parents and my aunt are coming into town and it will be the first time that we’re going to experiment a little bit with letting other people hold him. Until now, only Scott or I have been holding and nurturing him, in order to promote attachment. While I don’t anticipate any problems, it’s important to be conscientious about attachment when you’re adopting a child who’s been in an institution. We’ve been rewarded for our efforts. I almost cried the first time T and I were in a group and he crawled away from me, turned, made eye contact, and crawled back. For the rest of the parents in the room this would have been commonplace, so no one had any idea what a remarkable thing had just occurred. The attachment process isn’t just one-sided. We fall more in love with T every day.
The thrill of this last month-and-a-half has been the progression of my communication with T. There are still moments where I feel lost and clueless, but far more often are the moments when I know we’re getting each other. For instance, the food thing. I was initially feeding him rice cereal and pureed carrots and stuff like that, trying to keep it simple and to add one food at a time, etc, etc. He wasn’t having it. In Ethiopia, they were feeding him things like sausage and onion soup, so I think he was probably just bored with my bland if lovingly prepared and organic creations. One day I was wearing him in the Ergo and walking around the Americana (I used to make fun of people who brought babies to malls as an activity- no longer), when I gave up on my eternal fucking diet and bought myself a chicken sausage sandwich. T kept trying to eat it, so I started feeding him little bits of the roll and then eventually little bits of the sausage and he was the happiest baby on the block. A nearby mother actually asked in horror, “He eats that? Isn’t it spicy for him?” Man, people are nosy when you have a baby.
So now Tariku has gone from eating carrot puree to eating, well, everything. And he’s gained about five pounds. We’re calling him our little chunk of love.
T’s favorite things are Brown Bear, banging on things, eating chicken sausage, standing up, looking out the window, Bob Marley, bath time and, most, most of all, his doggies. Doggy is his first word of English. He uses it for anything he really likes.
Wow. I barely remember our first week home, with the exception of a conversation with T that went something like- sorry, kid, I didn’t mean to ruin your life and mine by bringing you here…I thought it was the right move.
We were all jet lagged and immediately came down with some terrible sickness. Just short of a week after touch down, Scott went back into the studio to finish the next Weezer album, so I found myself a full-time mom with the flu. At one point, T was screaming and I was crying and holding him and trying to look up how to take his temperature. I felt like such a cliche- the haggard mom with throw-up in her hair shooting resentful looks at Dad when he walks in the door from work.
When we all started to relax and get more sleep, things like folding the stroller seemed less insurmountable and we were able to spend some fun time hanging out and getting to know each other. It’s a unique thing- to be a new mother to an eleven-month-old. I found myself feeling pressure to be as acclimated to motherhood as the rest of the moms around me with kids of a similar age to T. I didn’t always feel like explaining to people that on the one hand this gorgeous little boy was my son and on the other hand I had just met him two weeks before. If spiritual practice dictates that you be as present in the moment as possible, then the first two weeks of motherhood were the most spiritual of my life. I was in absolute survival mode and doing simply what was in front of me. It was when it got a bit easier that my mind was racing with a thousand other anxieties again.
One thing I learned about T almost immediately- he wants music and music and more music. He came to the right joint.
Parents and children shared a final lunch at the guesthouse before heading to the airport to board planes bound for destination cities scattered all over the US. Our friend Karin introduced me to the idea of spoons as mealtime toys. Brilliant. Here, the little friends pose for a final picture together.
I can’t imagine what it will be like for these babies to leave everything they’ve known. Yet again.
I will tell Tariku that he has landed in the right place. We are a family with Gypsy souls and wherever we set up our camp is home. We traveled a long way to find each other and we’re not about to stop moving now. Next Shriner adventure…the tour bus. Maybe at some of the stops along the next tour, Tariku will find friends we met in Ethiopia waiting to greet us.
Our adoption was finalized in Ethiopia on the day of the inauguration. We all attended a goodbye ceremony at the care center, where the nannies and the children were dressed in traditional costumes and the staff said a few words about each child before praying together. The rest of the children sang to those who were leaving and Tariku left his little handprint in a book. It was sad and it was great and the whole time part of me was wishing we were just on the plane home already. I felt that way the entire week. But, in retrospect, I appreciate the importance of the rituals involved and the respectful and slow way that the children were transitioned.
In the afternoon we went to the embassy. The TV in the corner of the corner of the room was playing the BBC News. We watched as hundreds of thousands gathered on the National Mall in the dark, waiting for the day to begin. Scott and I were told there was some problem with our paperwork. For a long moment, we really thought we were going to be staying in Addis for an unspecified amount of time until they worked it out. In the end, we made it through.
Tariku conked out around 7:30 that night. I really had no idea if it was going to wake him up, but I had to try. I picked him up and carried him downstairs to the den where everyone was watching TV. Scott and I watched Obama’s inauguration with our son sleeping on my chest.
Monday January 19 was the first day that we actually got to take Tariku out of the care center and have him spend the afternoon with us at the guest house. They transition the children slowly, so we still had to bring him back at the end of the day, which was horrible.
Tariku was a sweet little angel those first couple of days and slept for long stretches. Knowing what I know now, I think he was probably traumatized. We’ve haven’t seen him nap like that since. But we did get a little preview of his life as the Wild Rocker of LA. Through our window, he heard the music from the Timkat festival and for the first time we saw his crazy little dance, where he shrieks with joy and shakes his whole body and sways his head like Stevie Wonder. We almost named him Tariku Wonder, but we stuck with Tariku Moon because he likes to dreamily stare at the sky and because he bangs on everything- like Keith Moon.
We spread blankets on the floor of the living room and Tariku played with his friends. It was so surreal to be an instant parent, sitting there on the floor with my kid and a bunch of toys he could care less about and wondering- what the hell does an eleven-month-old like to do anyway?
There are a myriad of reasons that we chose to adopt internationally, but in many ways we were led by our hearts and by coincidence. We chose to adopt from Ethiopia through our agency after meeting a woman at an adoption seminar. Her journey resonated with us, and after we researched the organization we didn’t look any further. One of the amazing things about the Ethiopia program we chose is their respectful attention to the children’s life stories. So much has changed in the adoption community since the days when I was adopted- the days of sealed files and buried histories.
The families in our travel group had the opportunity to travel to the town of Hosanna in the southern region of Ethiopia, where all of our children were born. In Hosanna, Scott and I met Tariku’s beautiful birth mother and learned about his first few months in the world. Some of the families were able to meet their children’s birth relatives and some met with the people who found their babies and brought them to the orphanage.
It is incredible to me how far these tiny beings have traveled- how much hardship and how much kindness has carried them to where they are now.
The picture above is a tukul, the traditional huts seen all over Ethiopia. Tariku was born in a tukul similar to this one.
On Thursday, January 15, we arrived back in Addis and met the nine other families in our travel group. The picture above is a shared meal at the guest house. We were a diverse group- churchgoers, rabbis, backpackers, cops, nurses, software engineers, artists…all of us waiting to meet our babies. Some of us were experienced world travelers and some had literally never left the state of Wisconsin. Throughout the week, I grew to feel close to all of them. There is something unifying about being in a group of people, each of whom is wearing their nervous system on the wrong side of their skin. You get to see people’s softest and most authentic selves. It’s a precious thing.
The next morning, we went to the care center to meet our children for the first time. The care center was four stories high and was clean, cheerful and well-staffed. We all waited in a big living room on the ground floor as, one by one, the families were called by their child’s name. About ten minutes later, each would walk down the stairs carrying their baby. It was the great honor of my life to sit in that room.
When they called Tariku’s name, we walked up the staircase and into a nursery, where a group of about a dozen babies, all of them between six and twelve months old, played on the floor together. I recognized Tariku immediately from his photos, with his high forehead and big, gorgeous eyes. He sat in a little blue plastic seat smack in the middle of the room. Scott called it the launching pad. His nannies handed him to me and called me “mama.” Scott and I both wept. Tariku looked at us skeptically, but then reached out his hand for Scott’s face, as if to wipe his tears. Or maybe he just liked Scott’s gold tooth, but either way that kid is a charmer. It was love at first sight.