What We’re Listening To…

Stevie Wonder is T’s newest obsession and this is his favorite song.

One of the great things about having kids is that you get to re-discover artists like Stevie Wonder. I got emotional hearing Scott tell T about Stevie Wonder’s disability- how it helped make him a great musician by forcing him to listen more closely to the world than most people do. T is talking about the senses in school this week, so it was a perfect teaching moment.

Added bonus: there are few cuter things than tiny boys with big afros jumping around singing, “BABY, everything is alright. Uptight! Outtasight!”

Our First Bully

There is a bully on T’s baseball team. The age of the kids is 4-6, but I’m sure it shouldn’t surprise me that bullying starts this young. T had his first game last Saturday and there was a moment in the dugout during which which the bully grabbed T’s hat off his head and held it out of reach. T stood there with a puzzled look on his face then reached for it, and when he did the kid shoved him backwards over a cooler. It’s hardly the first incident.

Then I tripped the bully and he did a face plant in the dirt. Just kidding- I didn’t. But it felt good even to write that. Wow, it sucks to watch your kid get shoved around.

I’m not sure what to do about it. Part of me wants to tell T to go ahead and sock him. T is smaller, but he’s ridiculously strong and coordinated and could easily lay that kid out. I know this is going to be controversial, but that’s my usual policy about bullies (as a kid who was mercilessly bullied for years). You turn around and fight back. Even if you lose, you’re bound to get a few good shots in, and given the choice, no one is going to keep picking on a kid who nails him in the jaw.

But in this case, we’ve been struggling for years with T’s aggression and impulse control and we’re just starting to make progress. I’ve been astounded by his growth lately. I watch kids shove T on the playground while he literally stands there holding his hands behind his back. He’s attending his second week of preschool, and while it hasn’t been completely smooth sailing, the challenges seem manageable. He has gone nearly a week and a half without ONE incident of aggression. I feel so encouraged about his healing and growth. I’m not about to turn around now and be like, “Okay, you know how I told you that we don’t use our hands for hurting? I meant we don’t use our hands for hurting, EXCEPT when faced with a first-class jerk. In that case, go to town.”

That doesn’t seem productive. So instead, I told him to walk away.

Near the end of the game, when the other parents were in a little huddle talking about the bully kid (whose parents were unsurprisingly absent entirely), my heart actually hurt for the boy. I kept thinking about all the times that people might have been saying similar things about T’s behavior, making similar assumptions that he’s mean, pushy, an all around bad seed. In our case, those things couldn’t be farther from the truth. The truth is that when T is aggressive, it’s because he’s terrified. His behavior gets better and better as he feels safer in the world- as he learns slowly and consistently that the people who love him can be trusted not to disappear.

As much as I want to kick that bully when he shoves my son, I can also see how scared and hurt that kid’s eyes are. It doesn’t make his behavior OK. It doesn’t make me like him any more. But it does give me a shred of compassion. I figure, if I can’t dig up some compassion for a neglected six year old, I need to seriously look to my heart.

Mirror, Mirror

Here’s my newest Huffpo blog, but ya’ll get the exclusive pic to go with it. Yup, that’s her…

As a child, I was fixated on mirrors. Time and time again, my parents would catch me in some elaborate, solo musical production performed for an audience of one on the back of my bedroom door. Not only was mirror gazing a solitary indulgence, it was also a public compulsion. I remember being mocked by my Hebrew school classmates when they busted me transfixed by my own reflection in the long windows of the temple gift shop, like a Jewish mini-Narcissus.

Until recently, when confronted with memories of my embarrassing pastime, I’ve always reached the obvious conclusion: I was hopelessly vain. Worse yet, I was hardly physically exceptional enough to justify such fascination. So I wasn’t just vain, but delusional to boot.

But mirrors are more than just a place to check your makeup or your air guitar technique. In myths and fairytales, mirrors are often a mystical thing- half of this world and half of another. Mirrors play an integral role in Snow White, The Snow Queen, Beauty and the Beast, Through the Looking Glass and the myth of Narcissus, among others. Perseus kills Medusa by using a mirror. Mirrors can provide portents of future events, can hold malevolent spells, can even be a portal to other worlds.

Lately, I’ve begun to see my fascination with mirrors as the result of an impulse more fundamental than vanity. Mermaids traditionally carry mirrors as a symbol of their duality. As an adopted child, I, too, lived in the borderlands between two worlds. I didn’t grow up physically resembling my family and didn’t see much of a correspondence, physical or otherwise, between myself and the disturbingly homogenous population of the conservative town in which we lived. I secretly harbored suspicions that I had been dropped into northern New Jersey by sadistic aliens. Or perhaps I had been abandoned by a princess who couldn’t raise me because of an evil spell- the very sort of princess who might have a magic mirror.

We all live on a shifting frontier between truth and fiction. Memories are a collaboration between past and present. The events of our lives are shaped by the dreams, fantasies and beliefs that circle them and vice versa. For adopted children, this hazy boundary between life and narrative takes on an added dimension of urgency, because in some ways we are forced to self-invent from the gate. The inability to easily concretize an identity can lead to feeling disconnected. It can drive you to stare at your own face for too long- to wonder who exactly you are and where you came from. But it can also awaken the narrative possibilities within you. The loss created by adoption leaves a gap, a void. If you are a certain kind of person, you learn to fill that void with story.

My birth mother recently came to visit, graciously agreeing to participate in a series of oral histories I’m recording. I had met her briefly once before, but hadn’t seen her in nearly fifteen years. I picked her up curbside at the airport and as I hopped out of my car to hug her, the late afternoon sun glanced off her eyes and the resemblance struck me nearly breathless for a moment. Her eyes were the same shape and unusual muddy green color as my own. A bit lighter, maybe. A bit more careworn, certainly. But still, the similarity startled me. It occurred to me that this sense of recognition is what most people experience every day of their life. As a result, perhaps they don’t feel compelled to look quite as hard in the mirror.

This search for reflections in the world around us is an essential impulse. It’s an impulse that isn’t only answered by our families but by music, art, books, lovers, friends. And by stories.

In my adult life, I don’t look in the mirror as much as I used to. What the mirror never gave me, I found in narrative. My hunger for connection inspired me to tell stories. I am grateful for it every night as I lie down with my own son, who is also adopted, and spin him tales in which he is a warrior, a prince, a hero. For now, he can take any one of these reflections and choose for himself a truth. And one day I hope he will tell me a story about who he is, and it will be far better and truer than any story I could invent for him.

Memories of…

T is still unexpectedly napping in the car and I’m sitting a few feet away in the dappled shade under our camphor tree, having one of those quiet moments that seem deliciously stolen out from under the day. I suppose I should wake him but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

I’m thinking about an afternoon few days ago, when Tariku made friends with a group of older boys at the beach and told Scott to vamoose, saying, “You can stand over there near my mom.” This was a first. T is not a kid who likes to be without one of us for even five minutes. He insures that we’ll be glued to his side by doing things like “cleaning up” by dumping a glass of water into the DVR player while I’m making dinner. So it seems like a huge step that he wanted to fly solo with his new friends.

Of course, we were by the water so we were only about ten feet away, but it was still kind of amazing to watch the boys show him how to dig for sand crabs. You should have seen his delight when they dumped a few of the hapless creatures into his outstretched hands. I didn’t even know we had sand crabs in Malibu. I’ve only ever seen them at the Jersey Shore, where I summered as a kid.

What struck me was that many of my dearest memories of growing up don’t involve my parents. All of my most secret and treasured discoveries happened by myself or with friends. What I most remember about the shore was being part of a wild wolf pack of kids, running over the burning hot sand, holding crumpled dollar bills for Creamsicles from the ice cream truck. I remember the orange-stained tongues, the sand-scrubbed sunburns from burying each other up to our necks. I remember I first held a boy’s hand at the amusement park there. I know that my parents were nearby, because I was nine, but I have no memory of that. Just the whirling lights, the smell of the sea air, the tentative press of palm to palm.

I wonder what T will remember. I spend my days so obsessed with his every move that I often forget- if he somehow remarkably remembers those sand crabs, I won’t be in the picture at all. I find it liberating to think that his interior world is entirely his own. One day he’ll discover a band that blows his mind. One day someone will break his heart. These will be the moments that grow to define him, and in his memories of them, his mom will be rightfully absent.

I try to remember that I’m just here to love him like crazy and figure out how to stand far enough away to pretend I’m invisible, but close enough to protect him when the water gets too rough.

Back to School

I’ve been woefully remiss about blogging because it’s been a heck of a back to school/life/reality couple of weeks around here. So far T is hanging in there at his new school. It’s the longest we’ve lasted yet, and I have to say that I’m touched and encouraged by the level of care and commitment the school has put into helping him transition successfully. He’s had a few incidents of aggression and one dazzling escape attempt. I’ve spent every morning with my stomach in a knot, trying to not let the other moms see me tearing up behind by giant sunglasses as I drop him off at class. But he seems to be making friends and each day has gotten a tiny bit better. He’s a warrior, my son. He is so frightened and he’s doing it anyway. He should get a medal for how hard he’s trying. Instead, I’ve given him a brachiosaurus, some green goo, thirty-two g/f chocolate chip cookies and two wooden swords. Not all at once, of course.

Thanks to all my friends, bloggy and otherwise who have been rooting for us, sending love, inquiring after his progress. I sometimes wonder if people with fewer challenges get to really experience how much support surrounds them. I feel truly lucky today.