I See You


I had a number of meaningful conversations during the Jewish New Year festivities, but my favorite was at a break-the-fast gathering, where I met a lovely woman who had spent the last year working with traumatized female veterans. Trauma- one of my favorite subjects to learn about! Of course I cornered her and asked her all about what she knew. One story in particular stuck with me. She told me about a woman everyone else had given up on, with whom she just sat in silence.

I thought about how, when Tariku is having a total freak-out and hides under the bed with his hands over his ears, I will sometimes just go and lie down on the floor next to him and not say anything. I remember when he was little and having one of his alarming tantrums, at first I would instinctively try to hug him or comfort him and he would panic and lash out. So I started sitting outside the door and waiting with him until it passed. And then little by little I began sitting in the doorway. Then I made it into the room. Sometimes he still needs to go be by himself for a while and work it out, but I’ve learned to see if there’s a little window open through which I can hold out an olive branch. If there is, I will go and sit silently with him.

My talk with the woman at the party caused me to reflect on how important it is to feel witnessed. Not just to be able to call a good friend on the phone and unload, although that’s great too! But to have your trauma and pain recognized and supported on a larger cultural level. We need simply to know: I am seen and there is a place for me here on this planet. All of me. All of my suffering and flaws and hope and humanity.

Because I am fortunate enough to have brilliant friends from different faith traditions, the week before the Jewish New Year, I found myself at a Christian Women of Faith event to hear the awesome Jen Hatmaker speak.  I heard her saying hetmessentially the same thing, with a different set of operating metaphors. Forgive my reductive paraphrasing of such a compassionate, eloquent and funny speaker, but what I heard from her was: You are seen and you are loved. Not for your accomplishments or your good behavior or your willingness to tow the line or your terrific souffles. You are seen, in all your imperfect and frightened humanity, and you are worthy of love. Period. End story.

I think a big part of all holiday rituals is simply to say to each other: I see you and we’re here together. We are all sinners; we are all in pain; we are all hungry for love and connection; we are all going to pass back into the unknown from which we came too soon. In light of all that mishigas (yiddish for “craziness”), we sit here beside one another in the presence of the divine mystery.

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Shana Tova 5776!


We just got done celebrating the Jewish New Year. As an interfaith household with a great love for all the traditions in our crazy quilt, we celebrate many holidays. This is both totally exhausting–especially around Christmukkah and Eastover– and totally worth it. Celebrating different traditions allows not only for lots of parties, but also for learning, exploring, and the challenging but important practice of honoring divergent belief systems. As F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said:

IMG_8251The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

The Jewish New year is a time for celebration and also for deep reflection. It’s a time to cast away the sins of the past year and welcome the coming year with a clean slate and an open heart.

Sometimes I go to temple on the holidays and sometimes I don’t. When I don’t, it can bring on a tsunami of guilt (cuz Jewish), but this year it didn’t. I actually feel great about our holiday activities and am stepping into the New Year feeling both nourished and renewed.

We did a few fun, meaningful things. First, we had a party at the hoaapplesuse to celebrate both the Ethiopian New Year (my sign is wrong, it’s 2008) and the Jewish New Year, which fell a few days apart this year. We wished each other a Shana Tova (good new year), ate Ethiopian food and apples and honey, hung out in the backyard with a handful of good friends, and, most importantly, used the last of our 10 yr old wedding napkins- win! We made brownies (these. you’re welcome.) with a thousand M&Ms in them, which was Tariku’s idea of what would usher in the sweetest New Year. And everyone still got to bed at a reasonable hour. IMG_8272

A few days later, Tariku and I went to the beach to do a Taslich ceremony with Ikar, a special and innovative Jewish community here in Los Angeles, which happens to be led by a childhood friend of mine. Taslich is a meditative ritual that involves tossing bread into a body of water, which is symbolic of casting off our sins from the past year.

On the car ride to the beach, Tariku and some friends and I had a fruitful conversation about sins and personal growth. I personally don’t have any problem with the word sin, though I know a lot of people cringe due to the baggage attached. I’m not a fan of the shame that it can sometimes inspire, but I do like the gravity of the word. Sins are serious- we hurt people and we hurt ourselves. I consider it good soul medicine to take a conscious moment to truly consider the ways I have transgressed and to re-align my intentions with a greater good.

I explained to Tariku that one of the sins I wanted to cast away was my yelling. I told him I don’t think it’s a sin to be angry, but I do consider it a sin to take that anger out on the people around me in ways that aren’t loving and respectful.

Tariku said that a sin he would like to cast away is when his Mom doesn’t let him use the iPad.

Okaaaaaay. Let’s try this again.

And then I prompted him a little bit and he came up with some pretty good answers, but I wasn’t sure if he had grasped the concept or if he had just figured out what I wanted to hear. Either way, it was a good start of a lifelong conversation.

When we got to the beach, the sun was setting in one of those garish, show-offy Southern California displays of pink and gold and powder blue. The unusually warm ocean was glassy and glittery. Tariku dove headfirst into the waves over and over, popping up with his arms outstretched toward the sky in a gesture of pure joy. I stood at the water’s edge and watched as he gleefully threw his bread into the cresting waves. My glorious, life-loving boy!

I experienced one of those waves of pure gratitude that nearly knocked me to the ground. Not “oh-I-should-make-a-gratitude-list” kind of gratitude: the real, pure main-lined good shit.

I thought- Please, God, if I am ever flat busted and alone and eating cat food and everything is lost, please let me at least always remember this moment. Let me always hold the fact that once I was this happy.

Oh yeah, and thanks. Did I mention thanks?

Later, I heard Tariku explaining the ritual to my mom on the phone. He said, “We threw all our big mistakes into the ocean. Like the ocean was the biggest garbage can of mistakes in the world!”

Which is both poetic and hilarious.

Shana tova to all of you! May your 5776 be poetic and hilarious and so very sweet.



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The Last Five First Days

I did a little round up of the last five first days of school…

  1. 2010. I loved his little outfit here. He lasted exactly 4 days at his first preschool. He was not, as the director put it, “Ready to contract when the group contracted.” Which is hippie language for sit still during story and snack. He was definitely more of an expander than a contractor. There were tears. Mostly mine.



2. 2011. This year he was an honors student at the School of Life! Mostly because he’d bite ya. A lot. So school-school wasn’t so much his thing.


3. 2012. The first year he lasted! We finally found him the right school and he’s still there. It was a rocky year but he got a toehold and it’s been getting better and better ever since.


3. 2013. Kindergarten.  He had one of those miraculous life-changing teachers who helped him turn the corner. Thank God for gifted teachers who cherish the kids that need a little extra help, and just shower them with love. She believed in him and he shone. fd2013

4. 2014. First grade. Another great, nurturing teacher and a year with much progress.


5. 2015. Today folks. Second grade. Bless him. Look at that face.



I can remember each of these days so clearly. Mostly because we were so worried about him. Transitions are Tariku’s toughest thing, and back-to-school is a seismic shift. In the past, the resulting tremors have shook our home to its very foundation. For years, he came home from school ricocheting off the walls. There were daily talks with his teacher. We thought the rest of our lives were pretty much going to be spent in a parent-teacher conference, like we were stuck in some existentialist play: You just think you’re at back-to-school night, but really you’ve died and gone to hell and you’re never leaving.

But Tariku went off for his first day of second grade today, and on the ride home, Scott and I were pinching each other. “Did you see how he walked in there like a champ?” “Did you see how he said welcome to the new girl?” Did you notice he didn’t say anything bizarre or inappropriate?” “Did you notice his body was pretty calm?”

I’m actually not surprised it went so smoothly. I’ve suspected this year is going to be different. Yesterday he woke me up at five in the morning and said, “I’m nervous for my first day of second grade.” He crawled into bed and we cuddled. I told him it was totally normal and fine to be nervous and that he was brave and I was proud of him. We talked about some of the things he likes at school- his friends, playing bounceball, pizza day etc. This little scene may seem totally mundane, but it signals something is changing for Tariku. It’s a huge leap for him to identify anxious feelings and talk about them.

Then we Googled dinosaurs for what seemed like 11 hours and when I looked up it was somehow only 7am. I’m really ready for school to start.

I’ll still be biting my nails until the pick-up, but mostly I’m heaving a huge sigh of gratitude. As if I’ve been holding my breath for five years, and I’m finally allowed to breathe out. How lucky we are for all the help we’ve received along the way. How blessed we are with this amazing kid, who teaches us every day about healing and hope.

Making Space


IMG_7463 - Version 2

For those of you who don’t know, we’re in the process of getting certified by Los Angeles County to adopt a child through the foster care system. That’s a picture of our CPR/first aid training (if you’re looking to do it, we highly recommend Ron Calloway).

Whenever I post about some new phase of our progress, I inevitably get 20 well-wishing texts, thinking that we’re bringing a baby home tomorrow. I forget that most people have no idea how this thing goes. There are about twelve million steps: paperwork and meetings and doctor appointments and rabies shots for the dogs and replacing windows because there are no regulation screens and and and…

We’ve been slowly chipping away at it for about six months. Staring at the final hurdles, I found myself feeling paralyzed. I kept landing in an overwhelmed face plant on the bed.

One morning, I decided to throw myself into it guns blazing and just get the thing done. I sat down with my trusty legal pad and looked objectively at every item on my list, with the intention of prioritizing and then attacking it systematically. It was immediately clear to me that the thing I needed to do most was to make space– in the garage, in Tariku’s room, in the disastrous kitchen cabinets.

Most of all, I needed to make space in my heart. I needed to make space in our life for another child.

One of the hardest things about the adoption process is that there’s too much time to overthink it, and a million legitimate reasons to get cold feet. Scott and I looked at each other every night and said, “Are we crazy? This parenting thing just got a little easier. It just got fun. We’re traveling. We’re going out in public without a scene. He’s in a great school. We relax now while our kid cannonballs into the deep end and swims the entire length of a pool. I don’t even have to get my hair wet anymore! And now we’re gonna go F it right up?”

We’re asking for trouble. No, really, we are. We know exactly what early childhood trauma does to the brain. We’re looking to adopt a boy around 3-5 yrs through the foster care system, who will inevitably carry trauma, loss, and deep grief. And then there are the risks involved, which terrify me. The worst being the possibility that the child will not be able to stay with us, which can happen. Sometimes I think we should just call a stop to all this immediately. And then I wonder if I’m having genuine reservations or I’m just scared.

Phew. That’s a lot. Even writing it gives me a stomachache. No wonder I was feeling paralyzed.

In the midst of all this, I happened to read Marie Kondo’s absurdly popular and totally psychotic organizing book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Yes, it’s that book that suggests you talk to your clothes.amess2

Well, I did it. I took two whole weeks, working all day every day. Everyone pitched in. We took everything we owned out of every drawer and cabinet and closet in the house and mostly we just gave it all the hell away, if only to avoid having to put it back. It was miserable.

It was also exactly what I needed. I’m not sure it changed my life exactly- check in with me in six months and see how we’re doing. But I did have ample time to reflect on what we truly needed and wanted, and what was important to us.

As I worked, I left space. I cleared drawers and left them empty. I left empty hangers in Tariku’s closet.

I wrote our child-to-be little notes as I went. In some cases I actually printed them on label tape and stuck them to drawers. I thought the visual reminders would help Tariku start subconsciously making space of his own.amess

I wrote:

We love you little brother!

This is your dresser!

In the garage, I created a bin for keepsakes and put it next to Tariku’s. On the bin, I wrote:

Welcome. We love you. We are waiting for you.

The current update is that we’re probably just a few short weeks away from completing our certification, which will make us eligible to get a placement at any moment, although it could take a while. Whenever it happens, the empty drawers are ready.

As I organized, I told myself that if after all that work, I found I ultimately didn’t want to go through with this adoption, that would be fine too.

Instead, I looked around and it was clear to me: we have a beautiful home, full of so much love and music and joy. We’re not at all crazy to want to share it with a child who needs a home. It’s okay to have ambivalent feelings. It’s okay to be scared of the unknown. It’s okay to start getting excited about it, even though the road ahead may be a rocky one.

And just look at all this room in my heart, after all.


Real Life and Its Skunks

IMG_6911I’m sitting at the very far corner of the coffee shop this morning, because I still smell vaguely of the skunk that sprayed our dog for the fourth time in a month. We’re calling the movie of our life right now, Skunkageddon: Revenge of the Rodents.

We hired a company to humanely trap the skunks and return them to whatever hell mouth they hail from. They’ve trapped twelve so far. Twelve. There are two sitting calmly in traps in the yard right now. This morning I locked beady eyes with one of them and tried to psychically communicate with him. I told him that we wished his family well, but would appreciate it if could they would all go across town and terrorize a Republican family instead.

acoveThen I went inside and stared for a few minutes at the sole rotting avocado in the fridge, because I didn’t make it to the grocery store yesterday. Like if I stared hard enough, it might magically turn into an egg sandwich.

A study in opposites, my mind drifted back to Greece last week…

ausboatAfter we left Athens, the rest of our time was spent on an epic odyssey, exploring the beaches of Aegina and then driving through charming villages tucked into the folds of the Peloponnese Mountains. As I sit here annoyed by the guy on his cell phone next to me and vaguely nauseated by the residual skunk smell, I can remember drinking an iced coffee in the dappled light beneath the Sycamore tree that shaded the town square of Karyes. I remember standing quietly by the bell tower on the town’s tallest peak and listening to the goat bells echo through the hillsides. I remember eating grilled octopus in a seaside taverna, while the kids trolled the shoreline for sea urchins.

I don’t mean to over-romanticize…I can’t say Greece was relaxing, exactly. Vacations with active children who struggle with transitions are not generally relaxing. There were times I was so tired and brain-baked and T was acting like such a little jerk, I wanted to swan dive off one of those beautiful cliffs. There were also times I felt numb, like I couldn’t feel my life.

Or rather, I could feel my life, but they weren’t what I deemed the appropriate feelings-  the awe and gratitude I believed to be equal to the scenery. I got mad at myself. I yearned for that pre-kid me, the one who would just drink it all in, content to roll with inconveniences, to drift wide-eyed  through the world with five dollars in my pocket.

But there was this one moment…

One morning, we took a little boat to the tiny, uninhabited island of Moni, off the coast of Aegina. We played for a while on a gorgeous little crescent of beach, in the shadow of cliffs that contain caves where acetic monks once lived.

We walked over a little path that traversed the island and found ourselves in a deserted cove, with only a single sailboat anchored in the distance. The water was deep and you had to jump off the rocks to get in, but all the kids took the plunge eventually. After T jumped, I swam along next to him as he looked under the water with his goggles. He lifted his head and excitedly said, “THIS is what the ocean looks like!” As if the world and his dreams had fallen into line for a brief moment.afood

I looked around at the thousand shades of blue water, the cliffs rising above us, the cloudless sky, that smile of my son’s that can turn a whole day around, and I thought, “THIS is what Greece looks like.”

What I meant was, this is what sharing the world with my son looks like. Its moments of wonder can feel even richer for being harder won.

And that’s where I go in my mind this morning. Because, in the words of Gershwin, you can’t take that away from me…

Not even as real life and all its skunks close in.akastanitza