#$%@ People Say To Transracial Families…

Kristen Howerton, Deborah Swisher and I got together with our clans one Sunday and made a little video about the #$%@ that gets said to us every day at the mall, the playground, heck, on our front yards! Being in a transracial family is a very visible way to walk through the world. I look at dumb remarks as a chance to advocate for adoption and to educate people who are usually well-intentioned, but insensitive. This video is in that same spirit. Plus, we had a blast making it. Hope you enjoy it. If you do, please circulate it!

Wearing Star Barrettes

I ache for the landscape of the Mojave desert, even when I’m standing in the middle of it. Whenever I’m here, there’s a constant hovering awareness that I’m going to have to leave and it seems to manifest as a free-floating sense of longing. I guess it’s the price I pay for having found a little corner of this planet where I can see myself living as an old woman, in some fantasy Georgia O’Keefe-esque existence.

We had six people out here in Joshua Tree for the weekend, all of us helping to shoot the video for Scott’s song “Pretty,” (yes, like my book) which he’ll be releasing soon. That’s a pic of DJ Mendel directing, Kaz Phillips-Safer shooting and Anais Bjork supplying the gorgeousness. T and I were production assistants: making coffee runs, doling out sunblock and, most importantly, digging for fossils. Because no video shoot is complete without a paleontologist on set.

Overall it was a fun adventure, but T was frankly a real pain all weekend. Change is hard for him and he gets tremendously anxious in unfamiliar environments. He refused to let daddy out of his sight for even a second, so we wound up just baking in the sun on set for hours instead of going to Pioneertown to see the cowboys. He also refused to go to sleep, which is annoying, but more importantly it makes me feel sad for him. He’s just a little boy; I want to world to be less scary. I want him to feel safer and not like he has to control everything. I also want to be two inches taller and speak fluent French, but that ain’t gonna make it true.

After we were done with the video, Scott took T home and left me alone up here for a couple of days to get some uninterrupted work done on my book proposal (I know- he’s pretty much awesome). It’s wildly gorgeous and the wind is rattling the windows. The stars are so low that I’m wearing them as barrettes. I’m eating cereal for dinner because I can. I love the freedom and solitude and yet I miss my little boy something fierce.

It occurred to me last night as I was sitting in the hot tub and watching the sun set over the desert, that if I could travel back in time twenty years and whisper in my teenage ear: You’re going to be an author and have a wonderful husband and a firebrand, amazing child and you’re going to get to travel a lot and one night you’re going to find yourself alone in a hot tub in the desert, looking up at a glowing pink sky, I would have thought, That’s a pretty f-ing cool life. But I forget about that and from the inside, it gets to just be a big anxiety stew, with scattered moments of gratitude and joy. From the inside, it always feels like aching for something even as I’m standing right in the middle of it. It’s important to have the moments when you say- this is all right. In fact, it’s all I ever wanted.

School Daze

I wanted to post an update on the school saga, because many of you have been following our arduous pre-school journey and I don’t want to deprive you of the big payoff…

Two years, three schools and many tears later, Tariku is ROCKING pre-school, at long last. I’m speculating that a couple of factors are coming into play to make this attempt successful when the others have been disastrous. First, I think he wasn’t ready to be separated from us quite as early as most of his friends. He’s been a bit late developmentally with a lot of things and in spite of all the parenting methodologies we try, he’s just ready when he’s ready. For example, we stood on our heads with the potty training until I was convinced he was going to wind up wearing Depends, until one day he decided he was going in the potty because his friend Dashiell did. That was it. We’ve had maybe three accidents since.

Tariku is enormously social and is now able to understand that certain behaviors of his were making it hard for him to be around other kids for very long. His desire to have friends has been the best motivation for him to work on the hard stuff- impulse control and emotional regulation.

The other big factor is that we found the right school. In our case, finding the best fit for him meant me being willing to be wrong about my initial instincts. I generally gravitate toward the most unorthodox and progressive institutions, but it turns out that in T’s case, he functions much better in a more structured and traditional environment. He feels safer when he knows who is in charge and exactly what is going to happen. Too much self-direction makes him spin out. We found a structured school that is aware of his issues and is committed to working with him rather than jumping to kick him out for the slightest transgression.

It’s not like we’ve seen miracles, but we’ve seen great progress and healing. The smile on his face when we’re climbing the stairs to his classroom makes my whole day. I could cry when we walk in the door and the other kids shout his name and run up to him. My kid had friends! Friends he doesn’t bite! Lots of them!

Best of all, I’m no longer spending my whole morning sure that I’m about to receive a call to come pick him up. He’s settling in to this school thing and so am I. I’m not sure who’s more thrilled about it.

Just Dance

I don’t have time for a hobby, and I REALLY don’t have time for an obsession. Yet, obsessions happen.

I have always wanted to tango. I love tango music and I remember looking up classes in New York back in the early nineties. But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I actually tried it for the first time. On impulse, I texted my saucy tanguera friend Jamie Rose (author of the awesome book Shut up and Dance) and said: I want to dance. A mere few days later I was taking a private lesson at a dance studio in Koreatown (that’s a pic of me dancing with my teacher Moti Buchboot).

It felt like no less than a dream come true for a moment, to finally be dancing the elegant moves I’ve only ever attempted in my fantasies. For about fifteen minutes I was convinced I was a tango prodigy… then it got really hard. Since then it’s only gotten more challenging, more frustrating and paradoxically more satisfying.

Let me clarify that Scott is not my tango partner. I’m flying solo. He couldn’t be more supportive, but he’d rather stick pins under his eyelids than spend hours a week partner dancing. It’s not his thing. Let’s just say that Scott is to tango dancing as I am to Rush music. Still, he knows that if I’m doing something that makes me feel happy and sexy, it can only benefit him in the long run.

My neighbor Suzanne told me that I was demented, trying to make time for tango as a busy working mom. I don’t think it’s any more demented than, say, scrapbooking. It seems valid to prioritize being present in my body and dancing to music that resonates with my soul. If it means we go out to dinner yet another night a week because I don’t have time to cook, so be it. My kid barely eats my cooking anyway. If it means my house is a wreck, nothing new there.

I also think that it’s a fantastic spiritual exercise to be a beginner at anything. To learn to love yourself through the stage of really sucking at something new. And to do an activity that forces you to connect to yourself and to other humans on this planet.

In short, I’m hooked.

Here are my first pair of Comme Il Fauts- the Jimmy Choo of tango shoes. SO worth the shin splints. Tango!

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Prayers to my Dead Grandmother

Religion is the hardest thing for me to blog about. I can write about sex no problem. I revel in the cathartic aspect of admitting all manner of embarrassing mom foibles. And yet when it comes to religion, I feel out on a limb. It’s still something that’s unsettled in my life and I have the unusual (for me) desire to please everyone. I want my atheist friends to think I’m smart like them. I want my Jewish friends to bat Yiddish colloquialisms around with me. I want my Christian friends to know I’m down with Jesus. I could go on…

I grew up in a world in which religion was a simple thing. My family and everyone around us was steeped in the Jewish ethnicity- its foods and prayers and customs and expressions. Neither of my parents lived more than twenty minutes from where they grew up. Holidays were crowded with family and the house always smelled delicious.

And then I moved three thousand miles away and married a Christian guy. And even before that, I was a religious seeker, struggling to find a spiritual community that made sense to me. I’ve felt close a few times- a Zen dojo in New York, a hippie temple in San Francisco, a Pentecostal church in East L.A… but in the end something always stuck in my craw and I eventually drifted away.

This comes up for me now because I just sailed through the High Holidays yet again without formally acknowledging them in any way. I did have a quiet personal moment, but I didn’t share in any kind of community.

I think my craving for some structured spirituality would just stay an intermittent yearning in my life if it weren’t for the fact that Judaism was so important to me as a child. I wonder if I’m slighting my own kid by not giving him a religious community. I don’t have a good answer, but I’m conscious of the question and I’m open to a solution that makes sense for our family. T’s new school has an Episcopal affiliation and he’s been really enjoying chapel, so that’s going to have to be enough for now.

When I think of being in an interfaith marriage, I remember the time Scott and I visited our friend Yoshi in Kyoto (that’s the three of us pictured above). I was having trouble telling the Buddhist temples from the Shinto shrines. Yoshi told me that there was no reason to draw hard and fast lines between Buddhism and Shintoism, because most Japanese people practice some mix of the two, with a dose of ancestor worship mixed in.

I told him that it seems like cheating. Like you should have to choose. It’s like calling yourself Jewish and praying to Jesus when you feel like it. And then praying to your dead grandmother when you feel like it. You can’t cover all your bases. Those just aren’t the rules.

He just looked at me, confused, and asked, “You don’t pray to your dead grandmother when you feel like it?”

Yes. I actually do. All the time. Lord knows she was opinionated enough in her lifetime, maybe one day she’ll weigh in with a clear answer. Until then, I guess I’m going with the Japanese model.